|Studio album by St. Vincent|
|Released||September 12, 2011|
|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. The album peaked at #19 on the Billboard 200, making it St. Vincent's highest charting album yet, only to be surpassed by her next solo album, St. Vincent. In addition, Strange Mercy also received significant critical acclaim.
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." This was to escape from the information overload she was experiencing with New York and modern technology. Clark arrived in Seattle on October 2010, stayed at the Ace Hotel and used a studio provided by Jason McGerr.
"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
The album was announced in a Twitter post on January 12, 2011. 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. The album was recorded at Elwood Studio in Dallas, Texas.
In July 2011, Clark announced that a track from Strange Mercy would be unlocked when enough Twitter users tweeted the hashtag "#strangemercy." During the campaign, teaser videos for the album, which Clark described as riffing on the idea of "strange mercy," were released. On July 22, 2011, the album track "Surgeon" was released as a free MP3 download following the Twitter campaign. On August 25, 2011, a video for "Cruel" was released. On September 4, 2011, Strange Mercy was streamed in its entirety on NPR Music.
The first music video from the album, "Cruel," was released on August 25, 2011. 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.
A second music video from the album, "Cheerleader," was released on February 7, 2012. 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.
Strange Mercy was described as being more personal than previous St. Vincent albums. "Chloe In The Afternoon," the album's opener, explores Clark's misgivings about monogamy, particularly the societal pressures on and assumptions about human relationships. 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. Clark did not elaborate on what caused her depression.
|The A.V. Club||A−|
|Los Angeles Times|||
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." 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." 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." Spin's Stacey Anderson called Strange Mercy St. Vincent's "most mercurial [album] yet", continuing: "Clark's complex femininity, both self-possessed and keenly evolving, is what makes her music so powerful and fascinating." 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." 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."
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."
Strange Mercy has appeared on a many end-of-year lists. Paste ranked the album #11 on its list of the best 50 albums of 2011. 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." 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. Uncut placed Strange Mercy at number 43. 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." In 2013, NME listed the album at 369 in their list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
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.
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." On May 1, 2012, she performed "Cruel" and "Cheerleader" on Later... with Jools Holland.
All songs written and composed by Annie Clark, except "Year of the Tiger", by Annie Clark and Sharon Clark.
|1.||"Chloe in the Afternoon"||2:55|
|11.||"Year of the Tiger"||3:28|
|Japanese bonus tracks|
|13.||"Year of the Tiger" (Live: 4AD Session)||4:10|
- 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
|Canadian Albums Chart||63|
|UK Albums Chart||117|
|UK Independent Albums||19|
|US Billboard 200||19|
|US Independent Albums||6|
|Belgium Heatseekers (Flanders)||6|
|Belgium Heatseekers (Wallonia)||10|
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