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Strange Mercy
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy.jpg
Studio album by St. Vincent
ReleasedSeptember 12, 2011 (2011-09-12)
  • Art pop[1][2]
  • post-punk
  • baroque pop[3]
  • progressive pop[4]
  • experimental[5]
ProducerJohn Congleton
St. Vincent chronology

Strange Mercy is the third studio album by musician St. Vincent, released by 4AD on September 12, 2011, in the United Kingdom and a day later in the United States. The album's cover art was designed by St. Vincent, and was photographed by Tina Tyrell.[6] The album peaked at #19 on the Billboard 200, making it St. Vincent's highest charting album yet,[7] only to be surpassed by her next solo album, St. Vincent. In addition, Strange Mercy also received significant critical acclaim.[8]

The album was recognized as one of The 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far by Pitchfork Media in August 2014.[9]


  • 1 Background and recording
  • 2 Music videos
  • 3 Lyrics
  • 4 Critical reception
    • 4.1 Accolades
  • 5 Tour and performances
  • 6 Track listing
  • 7 Personnel
  • 8 Chart positions
  • 9 References
  • 10 External links

Background and recording

Strange Mercy was written in Seattle while Annie Clark spent time in isolation, an experience she described as a "loneliness experiment" and "a cleanse."[10][11] This was to escape from the information overload she was experiencing with New York and modern technology.[12] Clark arrived in Seattle on October 2010, stayed at the Ace Hotel and used a studio provided by Jason McGerr.[13]

"I read about Nick Cave's approach to songwriting and how you just have to approach it like a day job: put on a suit and trousers in aspects of it, and get to work. I figured that, in order to do that, I needed to go to a place where I wouldn't be distracted by friends or fun or anything like that. I just wanted to be alone in a little bit of isolation. So I went out to Seattle for a month and rented a studio from my friends in Death Cab for Cutie and just worked there twelve hours a day. It was a good exercise because I'd never done it so vigorously. I've always written at home, so it was nice to just go elsewhere; to have a separate space in order to be creative; and also to learn how to turn on the faucet and not judge what's coming out… I'm always just following my ears. At the end of the day, that's all you really have. That's how I've been able to develop and grow over the course of my albums. I think writer's block – this is the quote I've read – was a term invented in Los Angeles by people who don't know how to write. There are so many ways to be creative that I just don't believe in writer's block. I think that's a fundamental lack of imagination. Once, I was sort of stuck, so I just transcribed all of Madonna's first record, because I wanted to see how it worked." – Annie "St Vincent" Clark[14]

The album was announced in a Twitter post on January 12, 2011.[15] In early March, producer John Congleton, who also worked with Clark on Actor, commented that he and Clark were nearly a third of the way through recording the new release.[16] The album was recorded at Elmwood Studio in Dallas, Texas.[17]

In July 2011, Clark announced that a track from Strange Mercy would be unlocked when enough Twitter users tweeted the hashtag "#strangemercy."[18] During the campaign, teaser videos for the album, which Clark described as riffing on the idea of "strange mercy," were released.[11] On July 22, 2011, the album track "Surgeon" was released as a free MP3 download following the Twitter campaign.[19] On August 25, 2011, a video for "Cruel" was released.[20] On September 4, 2011, Strange Mercy was streamed in its entirety on NPR Music.[21]

Music videos

The first music video from the album, "Cruel," was released on August 25, 2011.[20] The music video, which featured Clark being kidnapped by a motherless family, being forced to be a wife in the family and being buried alive, was filmed around San Francisco and on Mare Island.[22][23]

A second music video from the album, "Cheerleader," was released on February 7, 2012.[24] The video, directed by Hiro Murai, was inspired by the artwork of Ron Mueck. It featured a giant Clark tied to the center of a gallery space, surrounded by onlookers.[25]


Strange Mercy was described as being more personal than previous St. Vincent albums.[10][23] "Chloe In The Afternoon," the album's opener, explores Clark's misgivings about monogamy, particularly the societal pressures on and assumptions about human relationships.[11] The lyrics "Best, finest surgeon. Come cut me open" in the track "Surgeon" were taken from a line written in Marilyn Monroe's journal. Clark found that line to be "brilliant and really strange," saying "And I was – I put, you know, inspiration from my own life for various situational depression or what – call it what you will. And this line, best finest surgeon, really resonated with me." The album closer "Year of the Tiger" was written about the depression Clark experienced in 2010, the Year of the Tiger in the Chinese calendar.[23] Clark did not elaborate on what caused her depression.[13]

Critical reception

Strange Mercy has received critical acclaim. On the review aggregate site Metacritic, the album has a score of 85 out of 100, indicating "universal acclaim."[8] Pitchfork Media's Ryan Dombal gave the album a "Best New Music" designation, writing "Here, Clark's role-playing is grounded in emotions that are as cryptic as they are genuine and affecting. And when her voice can't bear it, her guitar does the screaming."[32] Drowned in Sound's Sean Adams also gave the album a positive review, writing, "Don't be fooled by them saucer-like bambi eyes[...] or her tip-top indie-rock-positioning system[...] because this is an album that rockets toward you, ricochets through your emotions and finally decides to lay you down on the floor, headphones on, tumbling around like a blissed-out cat in the sun."[34] Spin's Stacey Anderson called Strange Mercy St. Vincent's "most mercurial yet", continuing: "Clark's complex femininity, both self-possessed and keenly evolving, is what makes her music so powerful and fascinating."[3] Q also gave the album a positive review, writing: "Combining elegance and menace expertly, Clark's vocals drift languidly amid swimmy guitars, siren-like choirs and strings, while lyrical undercurrents of anger, hysteria and black humour tug beneath the surface."[35] Arnold Pan of PopMatters praised the album for balancing experimentation and accessibility, writing "It's as if Strange Mercy is making the case that high art can have a popular dimension—and the reverse, too, that pop culture can be high-minded and artful. Like peers such as Animal Collective and Dirty Projectors, Clark creates challenging music that doesn't go over your head even though you realize there's more going on with it than you can wrap your mind around."[2]

In a more mixed review, BBC Music's Wyndham Wallace called Strange Mercy "a little underwhelming," writing that there was a lack of standout tracks. Wallace continued: "[...] ultimately Strange Mercy sounds like her best record still lies ahead, once she feels a little more at ease with balancing her obviously multiple talents."[36]


Strange Mercy has appeared on many end-of-year lists. Paste ranked the album #11 on its list of the best 50 albums of 2011.[37] The same website also called the track "Cruel" the 13th best song of 2011, writing "The simple lyrics about how hurtful and painful the pressure of looks can have on a person are accompanied by a Talking Heads-like progression. It is difficult to be upset when this song gets stuck in your head."[38] Q ranked the album #8 on its list of the top 50 albums of 2011, while NME ranked the album #7 on its end-of-year list.[39][40] Uncut placed Strange Mercy at number 43.[41] Pitchfork Media ranked the album #11 on its list of the Top 50 Albums of 2011, with Stephen Deusner writing: "Strange Mercy is always on its toes, always toying with some new idea, always building toward the oddly satisfying payoff. The song might be a narrative or an uncomfortable explication of the life of an indie rock artist, and the ambiguity, not to mention the ambivalence, stings. By totally embracing that off-kilter danger, Clark opened up a raw and brave new vocabulary."[42] In 2013, NME listed the album at 369 in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[43]

Tour and performances

On January 20, 2012, Clark announced a tour in support of Strange Mercy. The tour included a performance at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, as well as two co-headlining shows with Tune-Yards.[44]

St. Vincent has also performed songs from Strange Mercy on several television shows. On January 16, 2012, She performed "Cheerleader" on Conan. On February 13, 2012, St. Vincent performed "Cruel" and "Cheerleader" on the Gossip Girl episode "Crazy, Cupid, Love."[45] On May 1, 2012, she performed "Cruel" and "Cheerleader" on Later... with Jools Holland.[46]

Track listing

All tracks written by Annie Clark, except "Year of the Tiger", by Annie Clark and Sharon Clark.


  • Annie Clark – vocals, guitar, keyboard
  • John Congleton – drum programming, production
  • Daniel Hart – string arrangement, violin
  • Brian LeBarton – keyboard
  • Phil Palazzolo – woodwind engineering
  • Bobby Sparks – synthesizer (Mini Moog, ARP), clavinet, electric piano (Wurlitzer)
  • Evan Smith – saxophone, clarinet, flute
  • McKenzie Smith – drums


  1. ^ "St Vincent: Strange Mercy, CD Review". The Telegraph. Retrieved 19 February 2016. 
  2. ^ a b Pan, Arnold (September 12, 2011). "St. Vincent: Strange Mercy". PopMatters. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b c Anderson, Stacey (September 14, 2011). "St. Vincent, 'Strange Mercy' (4AD)". Spin. Archived from the original on September 25, 2011. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b "Albums: Sept. 23, 2011". Entertainment Weekly. September 16, 2011. Retrieved September 16, 2011. 
  5. ^ "St. Vincent - Strange Mercy". Clash. Retrieved 19 February 2016. 
  6. ^ "St. Vincent Unveils New Album Details, Tour". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2011-07-14. 
  7. ^ a b c Strange Mercy – St. Vincent. Retrieved 22 September 2011
  8. ^ a b c "Reviews for Strange Mercy by St. Vincent". Metacritic. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  9. ^ "The 100 Best Albums of the Decade So Far". Pitchfork. 
  10. ^ a b Petrusich, Amanda. Interviews: St. Vincent. Pitchfork Media. 6 September 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  11. ^ a b c O' Neal, Sean. Interview: St. Vincent. The A.V. Club. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2011.
  12. ^ Comaratta, Len. Interview: Annie Clark (of St. Vincent). Consequence of Sound. 3 November 2011. Retrieved 3 November 2011
  13. ^ a b Klausner, Julie. The Style Issue: St. Vincent. Spin. 14 August 2011. Retrieved 30 September 2011.
  14. ^ Pinnock, Tom (January 2015). "Album by Album: St Vincent". Uncut: 54-55. 
  15. ^ "Twitter / st vincent: Did I mention I'm working". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  16. ^ Hopkins, Daniel (2011-03-02). "Between Production Work With St. Vincent and David Byrne, Paper Chase Mastermind John Congleton Launches New Band Nighty Night – Dallas Music – DC9 At Night". Retrieved 2011-07-06. 
  17. ^ "Thrilling, Unnerving" St. Vincent To Release New Album 'Strange Mercy' Sept 13 Via 4AD. Shore Fire Media. 2 June 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  18. ^ Tweet #strangemercy to help unlock a St. Vincent track. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  19. ^ Fitzmaurice, Larry. New St. Vincent: "Surgeon". Pitchfork Media. 22 July 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  20. ^ a b Fitzmaurice, Larry. Video: St. Vincent: "Cruel". Pitchfork Media. 25 August 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  21. ^ Katzif, Michael. First Listen: St. Vincent, 'Strange Mercy'. NPR. 4 September 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  22. ^ Clark, Annie. The Premiere of 'Cruel': Getting Buried Alive on Camera (EXCLUSIVE). Huffington Post. 25 August 2011. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  23. ^ a b c Greene, David. For St. Vincent, Music Is The Easy Part. NPR. 15 September 2011. Retrieved 29 September 2011
  24. ^ Young, Alex. Video: St. Vincent – "Cheerleader". Consequence of Sound. 7 February 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  25. ^ Pelly, Jenn. St. Vincent: "Cheerleader". Pitchfork Media. 27 February 2012. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  26. ^ Phares, Heather. "Strange Mercy – St. Vincent". AllMusic. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  27. ^ Adams, Erik (September 13, 2011). "St. Vincent: Strange Mercy". The A.V. Club. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  28. ^ Lachno, James (September 8, 2011). "St Vincent: Strange Mercy, CD review". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  29. ^ Nicholson, Rebecca (September 8, 2011). "St Vincent: Strange Mercy – review". The Guardian. Retrieved September 8, 2011. 
  30. ^ Wappler, Margaret (September 12, 2011). "Album Review: St. Vincent's 'Strange Mercy'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 12, 2011. 
  31. ^ Allen, Jeremy (September 14, 2011). "Album Review: St Vincent – 'Strange Mercy'". NME. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  32. ^ a b Dombal, Ryan (September 13, 2011). "St. Vincent: Strange Mercy". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  33. ^ Hermes, Will (September 13, 2011). "Strange Mercy". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 14, 2011. 
  34. ^ Adams, Sean (September 13, 2011). "Album Review: St. Vincent – Strange Mercy". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  35. ^ Carnwath, Ally (November 2011). "Uneasy listening from honey-tongued, dark-hearted singer". Q (303): 128. 
  36. ^ Wallace, Wyndham (September 1, 2011). "St. Vincent Strange Mercy Review". BBC Music. Retrieved September 13, 2011. 
  37. ^ Josh, Jackson (29 November 2011). "The 50 Best Albums of 2011". Paste. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  38. ^ Josh, Jackson (30 November 2011). "The 50 Best Songs of 2011". Paste. Retrieved 30 November 2011. 
  39. ^ Florence + The Machine named Q's album of 2011 – listen now. Q. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 30 November 2011.
  40. ^ NME's 50 Best Albums Of 2011. Stereogum. 7 December 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  41. ^ Uncut's Top 50 Albums Of 2011. Stereogum. 29 November 2011. Retrieved 15 December 2011.
  42. ^ The Top 50 Albums of 2011. Pitchfork Media. 15 December 2011. Retrieved 16 December 2011.
  43. ^
  44. ^ Phillips, Amy. St. Vincent Announces Tour. Pitchfork Media. 20 January 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  45. ^ Pelly, Jenn (February 1, 2012). "St. Vincent to Appear on "Gossip Girl"". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved February 2, 2012. 
  46. ^ Snape, Laura. Watch: St. Vincent and Damon Albarn Perform on "Later With Jools Holland". Pitchfork Media. 1 May 2012. Retrieved 2 May 2012.
  47. ^ Canoe – Jam! Music SoundScan Charts. Canadian Online Explorer. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  48. ^ "Chart Log UK – 2011". 
  49. ^ UK Independent Albums Chart 24th Sept 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2011
  50. ^ " – St. Vincent – Strange Mercy". Ultratop 50. Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 
  51. ^ " – St. Vincent – Strange Mercy". Ultratop 50. Hung Medien. Retrieved 12 October 2011. 

External links

  • Strange Mercy at MusicBrainz (list of releases)
  • 4AD's page on Strange Mercy

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