You rarely know what's coming next in a St. Vincent song - an angelic faux-Forties Hollywood musical chorus, a stumbling tap-dance beat, a searing electronic noise burst. Annie Clark's third LP under the moniker is as busily inventive as ever. But it's also hookier, sexier, more unhinged. The title of "Chloe in the Afternoon" riffs off a landmark of French New Wave cinema, but the song is no chin-scratch dissertation; it's full of bloodletting guitar, heavy-breathing vocals and a "black lacquered horsehair whip." (You go, Venus in Furs!) On "Surgeon" Clark disturbingly purrs "come cut me open" before a scalded jazz-funk jam kicks in. Like many of the year's most ambitious records - see Bon Iver, Gang Gang Dance - it repurposes Eighties analog synth textures for a hyperdigital era. Strange Mercy is visceral, vivid stuff: When Clark announces, amid a Roxy Music-style glam racket, that she's seen the northern lights ("Northern Lights"), you'll swear you can see them too.
Listen to "Surgeon":