Annie Clark is beautiful, but somewhere behind her fair skin, big green eyes and good looks there is a deranged woman hiding. Her music, which she’s recorded under the moniker St. Vincent since 2007, can be equally beautiful but also vaguely unsettling. Clear, lofty vocal lines drift over flutes, oboes and violins, only to be cut off by her distorted guitar registering somewhere between a musical instrument and an old chainsaw. The result feels something like reading a creepy, fucked up children’s book.
So it’s only fitting that the recently released video for “Cruel,” the first single off of St. Vincent’s forthcoming record Strange Mercy, features Clark being kidnapped at a convenience store and then slowly buried alive by her new “family.” The scenes of the singer playing housewife to her captors – a middle-aged man, his son, and weird, bespectacled (and sometimes wheelchair-ridden) daughter – are both funny and kind of sad. It’s a backwards fairytale with an unhappy ending for everyone.
The song itself is one of St. Vincent’s best to date – catchy, intricately arranged, and completely manic – and the video (directed by Terri Timely, the man behind her “Marrow” and “Actor Out of Work” videos) compliments it well. As always, Clark, who graces the cover of Spin Magazine’s style issue this month, looks saintly in a variety of modest, motherly dresses, even as she’s being put six feet underground.
Along with “Cruel” and in anticipation of Strange Mercy, St. Vincent has also pre-released the song “Surgeon,” a slightly slower, four-and-a-half-minute track that picks up toward the end with some funky, Prince-esque guitar licks. The songs seem to be following suit with the feel of 2009’s Actor, which gained much praise for its theatrical arrangements and songwriting.
Strange Mercy will be released Sept 13th on 4AD and is the first St. Vincent record not to feature Clark’s face on the cover, though the album art is of her own design and photographed by Tina Tyrell.