St. Vincent’s Annie Clark is very fixated on how we create a public facade. While Actor was focused on a struggle to hide inner turmoil from the outside world, Strange Mercy is more concerned with relationships and how the persona and image we project informs how we connect – or do not connect – with other people. A lot of the characters on the record possess some degree of confidence or charm, or at least sell people on the idea that they do. The anxiety in the music mainly comes out of a feeling that you’re betraying yourself on some level for the sake of pragmatism and social advantage.
The characters in “Dilettante” are slippery and emotionally distant; neither seems to be sure of where they stand with the other. There’s a lot of implied sexual tension, but even more overt contempt. Clark’s protagonist is undermining and dismissive, but in a sexy, cavalier sort of way. Most other St. Vincent songs convey some sense of angst and dread, but the arrangement of this number has a glamorous swagger to it, it seems to strut around imperiously with excellent posture. It’s vaguely funky in its sway, her voice is lightly flirtatious even when uttering lines like “I have no patience for an estrangement.” There’s a touch of ugliness and discomfort along the way, but for the most part this is an incredibly well-drawn portrait of someone whose callousness has made them very attractive.