ST. VINCENT Strange Mercy 4AD Album number three from Texan singer and Bon Iver cohort Annie Clark is a perfect exercise in imaginative pop insurrection. Clark messes up the mind of the listener, captivating with honeyed and effortless melodies, before letting loose spurts of guitar static or a turbulent synthesizer outro. Her line of attack is poised and thought provoking, but not haughty – a number of straightforward, poignant ballads are as tender and moving as any Adele showstopper. This record is a divergence of sorts from 2007’s Marry Me and 2009’s Actor. The strings and woodwind have been downplayed in lieu of a heavier sound, subjugated by off-kilter drums and quirky keyboards, with Clark’s electric guitar stuffing the gaps with elaborate runs, riffs and fills. The modulations and sudden shifts in pace remain as courageous as ever, and Clark has a flair for a catchy melody and an appealing voice reminiscent of Kate Bush and Leslie Feist. Highlight tracks include “Cheerleader,” the synth-pop flavored “Cruel” and fiercely intense tracks such as “Surgeon” and “Neutered Fruit.”
GIRLS Holy Father, Son, Holy Ghost True Panther What made Girls a cut above their San Francisco garage-pop contemporaries on their 2009 debut Album was the warmth. Christopher Owens’ vocals were so affectionate, expectant, yet broken as he sung about different women (“Laura,” “Lauren Marie”), and his collaborator and producer Chet “JR” White cared for the songs with just as much caring anxiety. A couple of years later, the duo has formed a supporting cast and acquired oodles of poise for Girls’ sophomore effort, Father, Son, Holy Ghost. On the opening track, “Honey Bunny,” Girls go to the beach searching for love, with Owens doing his best Brian Wilson impression over voluble surf guitar and jangling tambourines. With “Die,” Girls give a minute and a half of scorching psych-rock that finishes with Owens screaming, “We’re all gonna die!” along with a King Crimson-worthy Mellotron solo. “Vomit” is a comprehensive epic driven by buzzing organ, Mogwai-style guitar doom and honest-to-goodness gospel wails. “Just A Song” indulges in folksy sadness, while “Magic” moves forth with unrestricting new wave composure.
LAURA MARLING A Creature I Don’t Know Ribbon This singer/songwriter’s third record is so selfassured in its sinister achievement that you will have to check and doublecheck how old she is. But yes, the Hampshire-hailing Laura Marling, who won the British female solo artist award at this year’s Brits and already comes off like a mid-period Joni Mitchell, is only 21 years old. Marling started out as part of a new folk scene that includes Mumford & Sons and Noah & the Whale but has more and more stood out alone into a plainer, more alien and more jazz-flavored soundscape. She wagers her right to this terrain with well-built, erudite lyrics and eccentric guitar tunings. She’s continually distrusting this urge to walk away from contented states of affairs: “Gotta leave you alone, gotta hand on my back/ Why can’t I live and just be?/ I’m full of guilt.” A Creature I Don’t Know begins with a perplexing account called “The Muse,” in which the song’ main persona comes across: “a man who talked to me so candidly/ more than I’d choose… I feel again the bruise/ of longing ever longing to be confused”. He turns out to be “the beast.” A sprightly, barnyard banjo maintains a plucky pace while an adamant cello hook escalates threateningly out of control. The track jumpstarts the album’s compelling feeling of moving forward, of a woman fraught to grapple free from anticipation, relationships and religious convention. While her phrasing –particularly its tedious, downward lows – is pure Mitchell, her referential lyrical universe of demons and knights of shining armor, trickery and bad behaviors is more beholden to Bob Dylan. As is her capability to steer an arduous, ethical plot into a convincing requiem. At the center of album is a wide giant of a song called “The Beast,” which devours close to six minutes of livid electric guitar. There are beautiful, acoustic moments too, as Marling works her way through what she has described as “the difficult balance between wanting and needing.”