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Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

Hysterical Strength

Review of St. Vincent’s Strange Mercy

Photo By Tina TyrellTina TyrellIt’s saying something when Annie Clark’s looks rank a ways down the list of things she has going for her as St. Vincent. If we’re keeping score, then you’d have to put her angelic, crystalline coo of a voice and virtuosic, elliptical guitar skills right at the top (though which of the two should come first is grist for hours of debate). And of course neither would be anything without her songwriting acumen, which nimbly treads the terrain between odd and accessible, between abstract and evocative.

But underpinning all of that, and what I’d put forward as her most important quality, is her restlessness, as showcased in fine form on her third album Strange Mercy. That constant desire – or maybe compulsion – to fill her work with idiosyncratic touches that range from quirky accents – such as the adorable vocal hiccups in opener “Chloe In The Afternoon” – to dissonent, square-waved guitar breaks, also in the same song. One can’t help wonder about her process, and whether she writes the pretty first and then deliberately takes it off-road, or if that’s simply intuits both halves as necessary parts of the whole. Was the wonderfully random and unabashedly ’70s prog guitar/synth line that closes out “Surgeon” a result of Clark stepping back and thinking, “you know what would be interesting here?” or more, “of course that’s the outro. Duh”.

Compared to the ambitiously orchestrated Actor, Mercy is more of a guitar-heavy affair, with the contrast between Clark’s sumptuous voice and her favoured abrasive guitar tones played up throughout. Some find Clark’s penchant for abruptly shifting gears or marrying brutality with beauty if just to see what happens off-putting, but that unpredictability is rather key to the experience. Like its predecessors, it’s a touch more cerebral and considered than I might like, but the way Clark is able to sound confessional and emotionally bare without sometimes seeming to reveal anything at all and always maintaining a distance is, I suppose, perfectly in keeping with the duality of St. Vincent. And whether you genuinely love what she does or are just fascinated by it, you can’t help coming back.

The Guardian, Interview, Consequence Of Sound and The Village Voice have feature interviews with Clark, while 4AD Sessions and The AV Club have videos of some in-studio live performances and NPR is streaming her show in DC from earlier this week. She is at The Phoenix on December 15.

MP3: St. Vincent – “Surgeon”
Video: St. Vincent – “Cruel”

After bringing The Black Sea along with her in February to support Mondo Amore, Nicole Atkins returns for a solo show at The Drake Underground on December 3 – tickets $15 in advance.

MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”

The Kills are also planning a return engagement as part of a Winter tour in support of their latest Blood Pressures, setting a date at The Kool Haus for February 7 of next year. Tickets $26.50 in advance. They’ve also released a new video from said record.

MP3: The Kills – “DNA”
Video: The Kills – “Baby Says”

After trickling out streams of most of the songs from their Long Live The King EP – another went up at The Huffington Post earlier this week – The Decemberists are streaming the whole thing at Spinner.

Stream: The Decemberists – “Sonnet”
Stream: The Decemberists / Long Live The King

Hey, you know that 24-hour Flaming Lips song? No? Well they recorded one, it’s called “7 Skies H3” and it’s streaming at flaminglipstwentyfourhoursong.com. And it’s also available for sale encased in one of 13 real human skulls for the reasonable price of $5000. Pitchfork has details and Flaming Lips completists have my sympathy.

The Columbia Free Times talks to Ted Leo.

Doug Martsch of Built To Spill updates Rolling Stone on the status of their next album. Which is not to say anyone should expect it soon, but it is – you know – coming.

Pitchfork reports that The Antlers will release a new EP entitled (together), comprised of some remixes, collaborative reinterpretations of songs and an XX cover. It’s out November 22.

It’s certainly not a reunion or a new album – I hold no hopes of either of those things ever happening – but there’s a bit of Luna news to report. Their last two albums and EP – which had the misfortune of coming out on fly-by-night labels – have been digitally reissued with a handful of bonus tracks added on. Details and an opportunity to grab a cover of Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights”, taken from the Close Cover Before Striking EP, can be had at Full Of Wishes – yeah you have to give your email address for the download, but how much mail do you really expect to get from a band that’s been defunct for six years? There’s interviews with Dean Wareham at Polaroids For Androids and 130BPM.

The first official single from the new Guided By Voices album Let’s All Eat The Factory is now available to stream and will be available on 7″ come November 28. All 1:44 of it. The album is out January 1.

Stream: Guided By Voices – “Doughtnut For A Snowman”

Caithlin de Marrais – the former voice of Rainer Maria – will release her solo debut Red Coats on Tuesday and in advance, Magnet is streaming the whole thing.

MP3: Caithlin de Marrais – “Belong”
Video: Caithlin de Marrais – “Birds”
Stream: Caithlin de Marrais / Red Coats

Mates Of State have released a new video from their latest, Mountaintops, and Playback has an interview with the Jason Hammel half of the duo.

Video: Mates Of State – “Sway”

Exclaim reports that Brassland Records is celebrating their tenth anniversary with gifts – in the form of a free song a day, one of which is this early demo by The National. To get at the downloads, engage the label in some social media love via Facebook or Twitter – details over here.

Stream: The National – “High Beams” (demo)

By : Frank Yang at 8:32 am
Category: General

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  1. Kevin says:

    Red Coats is actually Caithlin de Marrais’ second solo album. My Magic City came out in 2008.