While it may technically have nothing to do with St. Vincent's (aka Annie Clark) latest release, it really is impossible to put Strange Mercy into context without mentioning her one-off performance this past May in which the demure twee-queen covered Big Black's hardcore classic "Kerosene." Clark's music has always hinted at a more sinister edge, but nothing could have signaled the visceral, throat-busting, guitar freak-out she delivered. Though little on Strange Mercy aims for that degree of brutality, it certainly shows those darker impulses bubbling ever closer to the surface. Guitars grind and chug, keyboards squawk and break through the mix unexpectedly; it's all very impolite stuff, especially considering the stateliness of her earlier work. And mostly it works: The fragmented but lovely title track "Strange Mercy," the wonderfully weird "Surgeon," and the highly potent earworm "Cruel" all manage to blend these rougher elements seamlessly into the established St. Vincent sound. While the album suffers a dragging back half, too often favoring textures and off-beat instrumentation rather than effective songwriting, it's no deal breaker. A little edge suits Clark well, and here's hoping to see her rock the fuck out a little more in the future.