My Top 20 Songs of 2011 #11: St. Vincent – ‘Cruel’

This year has been a fantastic year for female singer-songwriters. Feist, PJ Harvey, Tune-Yards and St. Vincent have all released great albums, all different and based on different qualities. Annie Clark from St. Vincent’s particular genius is as a guitarist: she is one of the best guitarist in the world right now.

There are some absolutely wonderful songs on ‘Strange Mercy’, St. Vincent’s third album. The best track on the album is probably ‘Surgeon’, a fabulous building song that gets better with each listen. However, for pure pop no track was more instantly appealing than ‘Cruel’.

The juxtaposition between the syrupy sweet melody and the darkness of the lyrics is a perfect mirror to the juxtaposition between Clark’s mellifluous voice and her shredding Fripp-esque guitar style: “They could take or leave you/So they took you, then they left you/How could they be casually cruel.” The joyousness with which she draws out the word ‘cruel’ for the chorus is utterly irresistible. It’s also incredibly disturbing and disquieting.

In making music that is simultaneously pretty and disturbing, Clark touches on a long line of similar great artists from Brian Wilson to Marvin Gaye, through Talking Heads & Kate Bush. With songs like ‘Cruel’, St. Vincent can stand alongside all of them and come out with her head held high.

Oh yeah, and the video is probably the best music video of the year.

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