By Maya-Roisin Slater
In 2012 Vancouver pop pixie Grimes, better known to the British Columbia ID office as Claire Boucher, released her breakout album, Visions. I remember discussing the effort with a former high school classmate of hers in a Vancouver bakery while eating focaccia. We talked of our confusion over the whole phenomenon. Of all the people to make it, why did it have to be the one whose music sounded like a Hot Topic clerk erotically whispering melodies into her iPhone in the break room? Since that fateful album I’ve been an adamant Grimes cynic. So, upon hearing “Flesh Without Blood,” the first single from Boucher’s newest offering, Art Angels, you can imagine my surprise when I instinctively began waving my arms like I was possessed by a Top 40 pop demon.
With Art Angels, Grimes has matured from subversive girl-next-door success story to a force not even the most insecure mutual friend can reckon with. Boucher doesn’t sacrifice her softness as she harnesses a power the past three years of life in the mainstream music business has brought her. Instead she brings us with her as she migrates above industry standards and into the clouds, winking away at the suits below her. By the end of Art Angels I felt sick to my stomach about all those dark things I felt towards Grimes. She is not manic, not a pixie, not a puppet, not even a freak. She’s a gifted woman traversing the tumultuous waters of being a 27-year-old artist in 2015, with all the attitude and some of the musical influence of a country song. Boucher is open with us about her fear that the people she admires won’t like her work, now with a clearer voice and more accessible beats her humbleness and talent combine perfectly to create a record that is completely unrestricted. Below is a play-by-play of Art Angels so you have some pre-determined ideas on the album for when someone you’re fawning over at a party you feel uncomfortable attending brings it up in conversation.
Coming in hard and fast with a cacophony of strings, Grimes begins Art Angels with “laughing and not being normal,” a cold short tune that sounds like an exquisitely recorded children’s opera concert. With this song the storybook about to unfold is opened, leaves begin to fall, the title conjures the image of somebody cackling in the distance.
In, “California,” Boucher uses sounds ranging from harsh noise to samples one might find blasting on an intercom at a ride in Dollyland. Her ode to the Golden State is a raucous glitchy balancing act between Joni Mitchell’s love for the city and Robert Plant’s heavy heart at the idea of calling it home. Written as a hate track towards Pitchfork, it’s lyrically the most engaging song of the album. Boucher rails against the commodification of art while expressing the honest fear that chasing beauty in her music will inevitably end with it being summarized in two run-on sentences by some pretentious music journalist.
From superficial to super-dark Grimes turns down the lights with a track she produced for Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes entitled “SCREAM.” It’s a ripper, with Boucher’s only vocal contribution taking the shape of ambient background screams. Translated from mandarin, Aristophanes’ verses are dominant and sexual. Using words like swollen, meaty, and moist, she expresses her wish to capture her partner’s primal screams. Boucher’s background yelling, processional drums, and driving guitar serve to highlight Aristophanes’ blase tone, making the song that much more terrifying.
“Flesh Without Blood” is a banger pop song, marinated with that sweet grimey flavour. The groveling often found in female Top 40 hits is replaced with sentiments of resolution. “I don’t see the light I saw in you before / And now I don’t care anymore,” Grimes explains in the midst of her ballad to the indie devotees who’ve given her the cyber beat down for sampling trap beats and committing other such mainstream crimes. This might be one of the only songs in history that, when performed at some heinous festival and dedicated to the crowd, is actually for the fans.
Continuing on the hit train, Boucher gives us “Belly of the Beat,” a morbid little club tune. If Pharrell Williams and Morrissey wrote a song and then got someone on DMT produce it, they would’ve ended up somewhere around these parts.
Grimes has stated that the next song “Kill V. Maim” was written from the perspective of Al Pacino if he were a time travelling vampire. Without this insight, I might’ve mistaken it for an ironic feminist ballad.
Next up is a whacky ode to Montreal, breaking traffic laws, and staying sober at the club entitled “Artangels.” Anime soundtrack composers are in a state of complete distress for not being the first to write this song. On the bright side, Quebec art angels have a new tune to bump at after-hours clubs and can discuss for days after how this song is about them.
Starting like a timid elementary school musical performance and morphing into a dreamy ’90s pop jam, “Easily” is the third song on the album about the affect her success has had on daily life — A quick link reply to any cousins of third grade classmates hunting down a guest list spot.
Darker and darker we go down the Grimes rabbit hole with “Pin.” Here she approaches violence with whimsy, and we are left trying to understand how to view things from a different perspective. Grimes drops a subtle Fleetwood Mac nod in this tune by reinventing a line from “Landslide.” Stevie Nicks saw her reflection in the snow-covered hills, Grimes sees someone else when she looks at herself.
The final track is a song written from the perspective of an insect watching the Amazon get destroyed entitled “Butterfly.” It begins with a funky little interlude I imagine being used as the backing track to an infomercial about a wind-up dancing dog toy. This interlude is the song’s highlight; the rest is a very disjointed combination of thoughts with punchy electronic sounds making them seem somewhat sensical. “I don’t know need to know / So, do know you want to? / Am I just right? (Is it just right?) / Can you see the enemy just isn’t me?” sings Boucher on the topic of rainforest destruction.
Sometimes I think alt-pop is just too deep for a simple woman like me.Art Angels, Grimes