Review: Grimes – Art Angels
National Music Reviews
Grimes = Purity Ring^Vengaboys / Mariah Carey^Miley Cyrus
It feels like it’s been ages since Canadian wünderkind Claire Boucher unleashed her splendid synth gems “Genesis” and “Oblivion” unto the world back in 2011/12. No other artist captured that Tumblr-saturated, post-Internet moment of a few years back as wholly as Boucher did on her breakout album Visions—a glistening cavern of crepuscular synthpop. In the ensuing eon, her brand of glitzy art-pop has spawned countless copycats and pastel-haired angel-fairy followers, and a proffered a pedestal that the pop visionary was wary of mounting for too long. Accordingly, on Art Angels, Boucher’s fourth album as Grimes, she’s labored out of her hype-fame to flex the sinewed wings of her angelic pop musculature.
If, looking backwards, Visions feels anything like an experimental, time-stamped screenshot, Art Angels has Boucher running laps around her contemporaries, swan diving into a pool of her newfound peers. From the carefree, West Coast breeze of “California” to the triumphant buoyancy of closer “Butterfly,” Art Angels is Boucher locking her electro prowess and pop emulation into an assertive groove. Not content with being the most anticipated album of 2015 (and best), Art Angels is already garnering lip service for being most self-aware pop album put to record.
Where Visions was crystalline and glassy, Art Angels is kinetic, traversing across various emotions from beginning-to-end-of-the-night dancefloor hits. Boucher’s siren voice sounds familiar enough, but here it’s couched in exquisite guilty pleasure: “California” is Boucher at her most sunshine-y and folksy, while the playful “Artangels” is an ebullient nod to Spice Girls celebration, rounded out by muffled cheerleader chants and a spectral backing choir of angels. Boucher does measure out the pleasure, metering perfect build-ups and delivering sweet doses prime for sweating out on the dancefloor. The flight pattern was always transparent—we always knew such jams were in Boucher’s toolkit.
Then there’s “Flesh Without Blood,” a sweet slice of empowerment that’s reminiscent of “Oblivion”’s bite; a smoking gun, perhaps aimed at the feminist auteur’s haters. With it’s pulsating bass line, perfectly placed percussive skitters and direct-to the-bloodstream lyrical grip, it will go down, for better or worse, as the most accessible Grimes tune—a crossover smash that’s surely sent shockwaves into Taylor Swift’s lipstick-smocked castle. The same goes for “Pin,” another sublime dance floor closer, and a reworked version of “Realiti”—all big room denouement, featuring Boucher’s voice at her most soothing and ethereal. Layering her own voice into a symphonic vocal Wrecking Crew, Boucher imbues each track on Art Angles with a striking amount of poise.
With all of its fanfare, Art Angels stands as the pinnacle of millennial indie’s obsession with pop music. Barely-there samples of electronic squelches, chintzy pop-rock guitar and Boucher’s ethereal voice flutter in the mix, cells of an athlete-like musical organism. It’s impossible not to hear the echoes of “Go,” Boucher’s recent fling with mega-pop ambition. It’s fitting, too, that Grimes straddles both 4AD and Jay Z’s Roc Nation—one ear tuned to Top 40, the other still fixed on the underground. The album’s two excellent collaborations—“SCREAM” featuring Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes and “Venus Fly” featuring Janelle Monáe—complement the Grimes vision, proving that many a crossover are in her future.
Such flirtation has bubbled up in recent years; industry titans, like vampires, draw on the talent of the hip and cool (see Arca’s contributions to Kanye’s Yeezus, or frequent Grimes collaborator Blood’s co-production on Justin Bieber’s latest album). But, to the chagrin of the male-producer-centric electro-dweeb world, Boucher is a self-contained maestro—writer, producer, performer, visual artist, auteur. Take “Kill V. Maim,” a dancefloor banger that’s told from the perspective of Al Pacino in the Godfather Pt. 2, “except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space,” according to Boucher. Lacing the track with nü-goth drama and pitch, Boucher is defiant of pop’s bureaucracy, yet, as with all of Art Angels, delivers everything that we expect from our guiltiest of pleasures. With Art Angels, Boucher is not a scorned creature of pop provocation, she’s the flaming-sword-wielding guardian of pop’s playfulness.