Until about two months ago, Grimes was a name I'd heard but not one I'd listened to. It wasn't until about two months ago that I realized it was a name I couldn't escape. She was everywhere. On Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, and then she somehow found her way to me again one night when I was riding shotgun in my roommate's car, bobbing my head to a song, after I'd asked, "This is sick, who is this?" If you're a fan, I'm sure you've already rolled your eyes at least three times at me already before even reading my third sentence, but I'm late on it, okay? Art Angels is the latest release from the Canadian producer-songwriter and it's her fourth studio album. What first impressed me about Claire Boucher was the fact that she writes and produces all of her own music, her artwork, and her music videos, but I didn't understand very best of her abilities until listening to this album in its entirety.
It's Grimes, so I knew right off the bat to expect something nearly extraterrestrial from the 27-year-old, and the introductory track "laughing and not being normal" made me smirk just by its title. It's got a Tim Burton eeriness, and it serves as the perfect precursor to the album. As soon as she starts singing, you'll start to feel like you're apart of some sacrilegious experience...where there's no telling where the song is about to go. Instead, it comes to a bit of an abrupt end, and this is Grimes's way of telling you the bumpy ride is yet to come.
The 14-track album is extremely consistent, but it's consistently unpredictable. Every time a song began I thought "this is going to be the hit; this is when the crowd goes nuts," but in all honesty, there is no one song that does that. They all do. Boucher has an imaginary talent. She's one of the few artists that has a limitless, adventurous creativity where she brings the deepest sonic explorations to the surface, where she then creates tidal waves out of the smallest of currents that inherently flow. Every song has a foundation that she builds upon, and manipulates, but never sacrifices, only capitalizes upon.
She initially shows that creative playfulness on this record on the first track after the opener, "California." "California" is a medley of hand-clapping, street corner hip hop, and bubble gum pop with its beats. This beat is the bed beneath the dreamy high-pitched, muffled Boucher. With the poppy beat and vocals, I almost wanted to call this a pop song. A simple, shallow pop song about California. But Boucher would never put out anything that dim. She is a producer, a DJ, an artist, and this album, this song, is her canvas. The "typical" simplicity I expected from this song just takes turns every time I expect it to go straight in layering the sounds and changing pace so she is constantly experimenting while creating a mysterious atmosphere that is somehow both light, and dark. Every single song does this. Every. Single. One. This song is just the sweet ease into the next 12 tracks. This song is an experiment, but there are others on the album that are even more experimental. The single "Scream" is interesting, almost scary in the way it sounds. Surely it doesn't fail Art Angels with the intense beats, layered sound effects, and distinct guitar parts. And of course, it doesn't fail the enchanting absurdity that is Grimes.
After "Scream" the album is a continuous flood of ear-pleasing melodies. "Flesh Without Blood," follows "Scream," where she yet again does something so unique with digital production that regardless of her love-or-hate voice, you have to sit and appreciate the plain experimentation.
Her school girl-dj-dance sound is even more apparent in "Kill v. Maim," one of the tracks I found most intriguing. It's almost funny when you hear her child-like voice sing "I'm only a man I do what I can," but she descends into an even girlier squeak when she pokes fun at the classic cheerleader chant "B-E AGGRESSIVE," in her chorus where she sings, "B-E-H-A-V-E AGGRESSIVE." That cheerleader that Grimes poses as for a few seconds disintegrates quite quickly. Her voice goes from Betty Boop sing-song to a brutal screech, screaming "...you declare a state of war!"
As I learned more about Grimes, I was exposed to a previous single that I must've heard a thousand times without having the slightest idea it was her, "Oblivion." The only song on this record that is remotely comparable to "Oblivion" would be "Realiti." It's one of the few songs that might appeal to someone who's not one of Grimes's cult followers. It's clever, catchy, and easily relatable.
Janelle Monae makes an appearance on the album in "Venus Fly." This girl-power duo is the best I could've asked for. It's straight bad ass. It's one of the most intense dance songs on the album and it'll make you want to freak the fuck out. Monae boldly confronts, "Why you looking at me again? What if I pull my teeth and cut my hair under my chin?" From girl to girl, I can only imagine this song is scratching the surface in attacking the unwanted male gaze, and Grimes and Monae team up in a song that screams "don't fuck with us," (that is, unless you're trying to dance your ass off).
I'd be completely lying to you if I said I thought I could sit down on any day and just listen to this album from start to finish. This isn't an album I'd listen to if I needed a personal connection; it's an album I'd listen so I could dance. To dance my ass off and connect with an artist who approaches production in a way I've never heard before...in a way that innovates. Boucher draws from so many musical elements, but does so in a way where it couldn't be retraced. She's just Grimes, and I don't think she has the slightest idea how to be anyone or anything else.