The most common crutch that writers have when describing the sound of an album is to compare it to other acts. Cults sound like the Shirelles (a comparison no one writing in music ever thought they'd make). Gotye is equal parts George Michael, Phil Collins, and Sting. Imperial Teen combine '90s alt-rock/post-grunge with 80s post-punk, especially the Cure and the Smiths. When writers are forced to use our own words to convey the sound of a group rather than name-dropping every similar band while using indie buzzwords like "slick pop" or "hazy" or "breezy", you know you're in for a truly unique experience. Montreal based avant-pop artist Grimes
(see there we go with the buzzwords again) is making her bid to be one of the artists with the most distinct and specific voices in music today, and after listening to Visions
, we have to concede that she has succeeded.
The coinage "avant-pop" is arguably the only phrase that comes close to defining the sound of this album, but it considerably understates the radical experimentation on this trailblazing album. If we had to come up with our own word for this album's sound, "future-pop" would have to fit the bill (though that term already exists to cover an entirely different genre of electro-industrial music from the late '90s). Yet, the future of pop music seems to be written into every note of the album. As odd as is this may seem for us to say, this music sounds like the kind of dance-pop we'll be playing in night clubs on space stations 200 years from now. We could easily hear many of the tracks on the album scoring a science-fiction film, and there is one track, the stand-out "Genesis," where the main background bass rhythm sound almost identical to music from the Mass Effect
soundtrack. There's a hyper-kinetic nature to the album with layers upon layers of vocals mixed over looping drums and synth lines with omnipresent otherworldly sonic textures. Rather than looking to the past for inspiration like so many of her peers, Grimes has blasted off to the future.
While we could certainly name potential influences on the CD (Panda Bear's Person Pitch
is the most obvious one), that would simply cheapen an unrelentingly original album experience. The album deftly mixes the beautiful with the unsettling and often within the space of the same song. While Visions
perhaps isn't as memorable or even remotely similar to Sigur Ros's Agaetis Byrjun
, it has that same ability to completely transport the listener to a new universe where you're lost in these sonic landscapes. Whether we're talking about tracks like the effervescent "Genesis" or the equally impressive "Vowels = Space and Time", Grimes uses her abnormally high (even when it's not being pitch shifted to make her sound like a chipmunk) and diabetes-inducing sweet voice to create a completely absorbing and dream-like state while surrounded by slick and catchy bass lines and endless synthesizers.
Very rarely do we have the opportunity to refer to an album as an experience. The first time you sat down and listened to Funeral
, when you drifted away on the waves of "Morning Bell" or "The National Anthem" on Kid A
, discovering the timeless magic that is Led Zeppelin IV
. You don't get moments like that very often. Grimes isn't quite at that level yet, but there is no denying an event level quality to Visions
. Her experimentation isn't always successful and perhaps the album could have used some slight editing, but we must stand up and applaud such a forcefully original voice in a day when everyone else seems to be mixing and matching their favorite influences of the past. This has the making to be an incredibly polarizing album, but go ahead and close your blinds, lie down on your bed, plug in your headphones, and get lost in the cosmic wonders of Visions