11.) St. Vincent – Strange Mercy
Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, plays guitar, in case you didn’t know. She’s not just the voice behind this album-length meditation on beauty and forgiveness, she’s also the major source of sound period. Her lead guitar here is smoking. She plays very expressively and texturally, which lends support to the delicate vocal constructions on the album. So delicate are they that they threaten to fall apart with the slightest disturbance. And they do. Because Clark creates that disturbance with her manic, frenzied bursts of lead guitar that take everything that The Edge does well and filters it through Robert Fripp of King Crimson. “Cruel is the pop-rock hit that all the blogs and year-end lists are talking about, but linked above is my favorite track on the album, “Surgeon.” In it, a repetitive and frail vocal line sits atop bouncy bass and icy keyboards before a full-on synth-funk breakdown happens during the chorus, all the while building to a crescendo of fat-lipped synths soloing on top of that funk breakdown that is growing ever more menacing by the bar. This album is ridiculously complex for pop-rock. It’s surprising and eclectic at every turn. It’s also being massively underrated on a lot of year-end lists. This seems like a career-making achievement to me.