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John Cale

Get Lost in the Cacophony of John Cale’s Mercy

This approachable mosaic of sound might be the iconic songwriter’s greatest achievement yet. 

by Stephan Boissonneault

There was no real expectation for a new album from the experimental provocateur, John Cale. But this is a man who founded The Velvet Underground and was fired for being too experimental. A man who has never been creatively sated, switching up his solo musical style like flipping through a deck of Tarot cards for the last 50 years. Now we have Mercy, what could be his last, but should be called a surreal 12-track triumph.

Mercy pushes the notion of what you can do with music, reinvigorating the definitions of noise, pop, drone, experimental rock, and darkened electronica. Just try defining what is going on behind the shadows during “MARILYN MONROE’S LEGS (beauty elsewhere).” That track features the shadowy electronic musician, Actress, but it’s hard to decipher where his mark is left, as Cale plays almost every instrument on Mercy, save for a few. The collaborations continue with Sylvan Esso, Weyes Blood, Animal Collective, Fat White Family and others.

Weyes Blood was no doubt picked for her vocal prowess during the monumental “STORY OF BLOOD” and supernatural similarity to Nico—a musician Cale makes an avant-garde ode to during “Moonstruck (Nico’s Song).” 

The draw of Mercy is how approachable it is. Tracks usually start with a drum machine and bass akin to modern hip-hop beats ala Kendrick Lamar, but as they ebb and flow, Cale paints a mosaic of sound; his specter-esque voice, gargantuan synth chords, buzzing strings, fuzzed-out guitars. Though it may not be his send-off, Mercy is to Cale what Blackstar was to David Bowie