Grimes: Art Angels
Alternative & IndieDance & Electronica
4AD Eerie / Organization
Canadian artist, Grimes – real name Claire Boucher – has made a name for herself with her eclectic, haunting production style and unique ethereal vocals. With one of 2012’s best albums, Visions, Grimes firmly placed herself on the art-pop landscape as an incredible producer, placing on several album of the year lists. Now it’s 2015, and she’s back with what is her fourth overall studio album, but is it the second coming everyone expected?
The album opens with the straight-forwardly titled ‘laughing and not being normal’. As a testament to the breadth of the work that she takes inspiration, the track sounds like something from an anime or Japanese video game. The vocals are as haunting and ethereal as ever and as if the production style wasn’t enough to warrant a comparison to Japanese and anime culture, the song ends with the line “When the leaves fall/ I try to catch ‘em all.” Coincidence?
The second track, ‘California’, is where Grimes goes all-out with her mainstream pop influences. Sounding like something released in the early 2000s, the song almost borders on bubblegum, bursting at the seams with sticky satirical bile aimed squarely at a certain music website who’s name may or may not rhyme with Shmitchfork. Grimes puts all her vocal emotions into the repeated verse, ending “Oh lord cause I don't wanna know what they say/ Cause I get carried away, Commodifying all the pain.”
Ouch. But there is more to this track than just satire. The light synth buzz in the background brings the song back down to earth a little bit, and the layered vocals make this a great synthesis between her personal style and a more mainstream aesthetic.
This play between art-pop and more mainstream stylings is an ongoing theme throughout the album. ‘Flesh without Blood’, for example, sounds like a song that you might see Rihanna performing – and funnily enough, Grimes’ last non-album single, ’Go’, produced in collaboration with Blood Diamonds was originally written for RiRi, but was turned down. This is seen once again on ‘Realiti’, which manages to combine elements of house and liquid dubstep, with only a light smattering of pop-iness.
That doesn’t mean that Boucher has lost her touch for experimentation. ‘SCREAM’ combines vocals performed entirely in Mandarin by female Taiwanese rapper, Aristophanes, with guitar and drums that would not be out of place on a Nine Inch Nails album. The minimalist verse periods are full on With Teeth/Year Zero style production, with the chorus section seemingly being pulled straight from Trent Reznor and co’s 1992 EP, Broken.
‘Kill V. Maim’ is further evidence of this, although the experimentation is more lyrically-based. Potentially, the best pop song of the year, the lyrics deal with, in Grimes’ own words, “the perspective of Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt II. Except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.” Beyond the strange subject matter, the lyrics steer dangerously yet subtly close to philosophical concepts, as seen much more commonly on previous releases. At the end of the bridge, she screams “You gave up being good when you declared a state of war”. This appears to be a reference to John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government where he defines a state of war as being a situation where one can kill in defence of their freedom, in contrast to the state of nature where this is not the case. Pretty deep for a bubblegum pop tune, but that’s just how Grimes rolls.
The most absurd thing about this album –forgetting for one brief second the vampire Al Pacino, the Pokemon references and the Mandarin rapping – is that it is all entirely self-produced and engineered, flying right in the face of critics of DIY styles who will tell you that it’s sloppy and poor quality. This is one of the best produced albums of the year and, despite a couple of stumbles, Grimes shows a maturity beyond her 27 years, bringing all of her influences together into a well-made, danceable and, above all, long-awaited package.