Album Review: Grimes — Art Angels

Grimes is Canadian musician, artist, and videographer Claire Boucher. She began recording homemade synthpop at McGill College in Montreal in 2010. That year, she released two albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa. Her sound was grounded in pop, but she experimented a lot with vocal effects and flirted with other genres, like medieval music. Boucher’s real breakthrough came with her third album, Visions, which came in 2012. Released by higher-profile label 4AD, Visions expanded Boucher’s low-key pop sound with something a little more maximalist, and Grimes became a sort of micro-celebrity.

 

Singles like “Oblivion” and “Genesis” put Grimes on the map with infectious beats and airy, ethereal synths. In the time since Visions, Grimes has amassed quite a large social media fanbase, tons of critical acclaim, and has been viewed as a fashion icon as well as an outspoken proponent of feminist issues, especially advocating for women who work in music production. She’s also released a couple of songs in the interim to make fans more and more hungry for the new album: last year’s “Go”, a collaboration with her friend and fellow electronic artist Blood Diamonds, and a demo version “REALiTi”, which gets a new coat of paint and a spot on her highly-anticipated fourth album, Art Angels.

“REALiTi” makes a great introduction to Art Angels. Boucher didn’t even want to originally include it on the album, but the fan response to the demo version led her to revamp it and add it to the tracklist. The song has the same shimmering, otherworldly qualities of the best songs on Visions, but puts a larger emphasis on Grimes’ vocal by placing them higher in the mix.

The rest of the album, though, sounds almost nothing like Visions, or anything Boucher’s ever done before, or anything anyone’s ever done, really. Across 14 tracks, Grimes jumps from genre to genre, but the album doesn’t suffer because of the sudden changes in sound—there’s an overall aesthetic that the album possesses that assures listeners that this could be the work of no one but Grimes.

Art Angels opens with “laughing and not being normal”, which synthesizes medieval and electronic music into a perfect opening salvo. Next comes “California”, a bouncy, sunny, slightly country-influenced track with industrial percussion and lyrics about feeling alienated by the music media’s view of Grimes and Boucher’s purpose with the project. “SCREAM” feat. Aristophanes, a Taiwanese rapper Boucher discovered on SoundCloud, is a pop-rap song influenced by heavy metal.

The first three tracks make it clear that this album isn’t for everyone—those who disliked Grimes’ past tracks that indulged more on the pop side won’t find much to enjoy here. The album is comprised of tracks that Boucher has described as angry; “Kill V. Maim”, one of the album’s brightest spots, shows Boucher trying out some vocal acrobatics and summoning what sounds like a squad of zombie cheerleaders for an amazingly sing-along-able pre-chorus. That’s more ideas than most artists pack into a single song, and the song’s layers don’t stop there: Boucher said in an interview that the song is written from the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather‘‘except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.”

With Art Angels, Grimes is dismantling the idea of what it means to be a pop star in 2015. This album may just bring Grimes a larger fanbase (songs like “Artangels” and “Venus Fly”, which features fellow pop auteur Janelle Monáe, could feasibly be heard on pop radio), which is an amazing feat for an album that sounds like the work of dozens of people but was singularly written, arranged, composed, produced, and engineered by one extremely talented visionary.

-Erik

 

 

(Art Angels was released 6 November 2015 on 4AD Records.)

Scott MeyerComment