Strange Mercy

St. Vincent

Once again, Annie Clark dons her saintly stage name and walks out on the high wire where she balances between the precise and the precious. “Chloe in the Afternoon” leads off and spells out the basic sound for this unique art-rock act: loud, dynamic play with basic rhythms; discrete and aggressive electric guitar bursts; cleverly chosen and executed background synth fills; and a charismatic singer stringing together opaque strings of lyrics and, at her best, tying the whole package together. On lesser tracks — and there are a few here on her third full-length — it can sound like Kate Bush walked in to complete some of TV on the Radio’s demo sessions. But when the turning point statement of purpose “Cheerleader” leads into the careful sonic assault “Surgeon,” it’s just one example of how St. Vincent can be simultaneously innovative and engaging. Clark at times seems to downplay the development of her melodic gifts, preferring to push her interests in becoming a world-class tinkerer. She could eventually do it all, depending on her choices.