The third album by New York singer-songwriter Annie Clark, who records under the name of St. Vincent, was written in Seattle. She decamped to the North Western city to escape from the information overload she was experiencing at home and recorded Strange Mercy in a studio provided by Death Cab For Cutie drummer Jason McGerr. The album was released by 4AD on September 12, 2011 and peaked at #19 on the Billboard 200, making it her first Top 20 LP.
The publicity notes for Strange Mercy describe many of the tracks being "about wanting relief from pain, and searching high and low for release." Clark elaborated to Spinner on the kind of pain that she is singing about: "There's so many kinds of pain," she said. "There's existential crisis pain, the physicality of grief, there's losing people and reeling from that. There's self-induced, there's externally induced. It's a smorgasbord of pain."
Strange Mercy features very little of the ornately structured arrangements that marked Clark's previous release, Actor, and is a much more guitar-oriented album than her previous LPs. "I wanted to make things direct and immediate," said Clark. "I didn't tinker. I tried to keep the arrangements pretty simple and use just enough instrumentation to get the point across. I didn't want anything to get in the way."
Annie Clark recalled to Mojo magazine in 2015: "Strange Mercy was a record that I wrote when I was just shatter4ed, heartbroken. I'd lost a lot of people and it was just a horrible time in my life, and I was writing my way out of misery. The fire was still at my heels."