Release Date: Dec 11, 2015
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
In the past Claire Boucher has taken varying steps to shape a kind of anti-reality; from her fantastical musical persona itself, to one particular failed attempt to pack off to New Orleans on a shoddily-built barge filled with potatoes in 2009. Grimes’ breakthrough third record, ‘Visions’, came from a similar headspace, created in a blacked-out room, wrenched out of hallucinations over a practically sleepless three-week period. Up until this point - ‘Art Angels’ - Grimes has been all about escapism.
Since the release of her breakthrough 2012 album, Visions, Claire Boucher has become somewhat of a mythmaker (Skinny Puppy reference intended). Last year, she shelved an album's worth of Grimes material and hesitantly released a divisive single, promising that the best was yet to come — and that's on top of all the Tumblr heroics she performed defending her craft. Now, we finally have the fourth Grimes album, which finds Boucher indulging her lofty ambitions and making good on all the promise she's shown over the years.Boucher has insisted that she regards Art Angels as her debut album proper, and you can hear why: This is a wildly resourceful and confident album, written, performed, engineered and produced entirely by Boucher.
Claire Boucher, the singular voice behind Grimes, built a universe around herself with her 2012 indie breakthrough Visions, and with the seismic shift in approach that has spawned her latest album—and the one most beholden to pop convention—Art Angels, the fans who once found themselves invested in the world of the former album may feel neglected. In 2015, Grimes has shed much of what skyrocketed 2012 Grimes to the spotlight at the foreground of the indie pop scene, after all: breathy, self-conscious vocals, slow-paced songs, a persistent haze of dreamy effects, consistent, meditative compositions. Art Angels, in contrast, is a monstrosity of dynamic pop volatility.
Some artists use alter egos to protect their private selves from their performative ones; others use their personas to become more themselves than they ever could be without an audience. Grimes, the chimera puppeted by Canadian producer Claire Boucher, falls in the latter camp. Her art, her fashion, her music, and her personality appear seamless across the channels where she’s chosen to display them.
"I'll never be your dream girl," sings Claire Boucher on "Butterfly", the final song on Art Angels, her most audacious album to date. Perhaps she's just being coy, because for many she is exactly that. In the age of the female pop auteur, Boucher's work as Grimes is a glorious addition to the canon, someone who beckons us to the dancefloor with big ideas and bigger beats, and resists simplistic notions of who she can be on a record or a stage.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Claire Boucher is queen of the art angels; equal parts alternative genesis of modern DIY culture, handling the hefty reigns of every facet of her atypical artistry from writing to recording to producing to design, while equal parts electro-pop altruist, gripping mainstream pop by its predictable, one-dimensional sensibilities (or gonads) and delivering instead, her dynamic cult-coveted Grimes persona, winged and honest, dissolving the limiting ethos of boundary between underground and conventional pop. And just as there's a vibrant duality in the name the Canadian singer-producer gave to her long-awaited fourth album Art Angels, so is there a contrast in the texture and conception of it.
When Claire Boucher released Visions in 2012, her rickety electronics and wispy high register cut a line through the dance underground and the indie-rock world. Irresistible melodies and lyrics surfaced from the DIY haze on tracks like "Genesis" and "Oblivion." The latter became Boucher's signature song, an account of sexual assault wrapped up in an earwormy, happy-go-lucky melody. And in a twist of fate, that gut-wrenching personal tale rocketed her into worldwide fame.The Canadian artist spent the next few years coming to terms with it all.
Grimes already defied easy classification on Visions, a collection of dreamy electronic collages that resembled pop just enough to make it one of 2012's most acclaimed albums. When she returned three years later with Art Angels, her music was even more paradoxical; Claire Boucher's fourth album is wilder, more ambitious, and -- at least on the surface -- more accessible than her breakthrough. This time, Boucher's production draws attention to all the sounds and styles she's juggling: "laughing and not being normal" begins things with symphonic pomp, its trilling vocals, piano filigrees, and pizzicato strings signaling that this album is an event.
Pop art is no new concept. The pioneers of the form excellently combined their own artistic visions with iconic anti-art. The results were sometimes confusing, murky to the beholder. Other times, they stood on their own without the ironic lens. Art Angels is the latter.On her new album, Grimes (AKA ….
In an act both brave and hopeless, artists sometimes assemble thrown-together installations. In thousands of galleries across the world, we see works bursting with vague associations — rocks, marbles, trash maybe flecked with splatters of paint, cowboy hats, photographs of California, and big paper mâché anime eyes held up by strands of bent chicken wire. Each one of these piecemeal materials carries with it a distinct flavor, a sort of acoustic, resonant feeling that harbors apparent or possible meanings.
When Grimes threw out an entire record because 'it sucked', nobody would have expected her to go off and write an Everly Brothers song. But that’s what she’s done. ‘California’ – an early highlight on Art Angels’ dazzling string of delights – is all jingle jangle country swing, swirled with fuzzing synths and Claire Boucher’s sweet-and-sour vocals.
Art Angels, Grimes' long awaited follow up to 2011's Visions, was already a story months before its release. A rumor first claimed that Grimes—aka Claire Boucher—scrapped the album entirely in the aftermath of her fans' response to last year's single, "Go," but she later doubled back, citing her own reasons for launching a new direction. Either way, such a public display of a work in process is risky business.
Four records into Claire Boucher’s career as Grimes, she decided it was time for a posse record. Facetiously explaining Art Angels to The Fader, she called it an album made by a “girl group” whose members are all versions of Grimes. But absurdist riffing though it may be, that sort of fractured rhetoric has been present in all of the (many) conversations and convolutions she’s undertaken since the release of her breakthrough collection of Ghost Adventures electro-pop, Visions, back in 2012.
Never judge a book by its cover. Or, in this case, an album by its sleeve. For, if you were to see the artwork for Grimes‘ fourth album Art Angels and think “well, that looks like a Manga comic strip drawn by a very disturbed five-year-old after a particularly bad sugar rush, I can’t imagine that being very good”, you’d probably move on. Which would be a huge mistake, of course.
Grimes, a.k.a. Claire Boucher, has never wanted for personality or ambition. But missing from the formula, even as recently as 2012's breakthrough Visions, has been an organizing principle. With her new album, Art Angels, we finally get one, and while it works out to basically “do everything possible to coalesce avant-garde and pop sensibilities in a way that's personally satisfying,” that still results in an album with genuine structural integrity.
On her 2012 breakthrough, Visions, singer-producer Claire Boucher (a.k.a. Grimes) was an indie-rock fan's platonic ideal of a pop star – blurring moody electro and moodier R&B in music that she made herself on Garageband, turning the underground into her own diva stadium, all while implying that actual pop success was something she could take or leave. Since then, she's signed to Jay Z's management firm Roc Nation, toured with Lana Del Rey and moved from Montreal to L.A.
Unless you explicitly set out to play authentic bluegrass, for instance, categorisation is the bane of every musician. Hailing from the Montreal digital underground, producer Claire “Grimes” Boucher initially combined impressionistic loops and processed cooing with a penchant for melody. She looked like a renegade – candy-coloured hair, self-tattooed hands, mountains of gear.
I don’t trust snarky people. I am a snarky person, and, in the way one can never, in the words of my old deli manager, bullshit a bullshitter, I simply don’t trust the excessively negative. Writers who have a withering bon mot for every person who has ever walked the planet who dared put themselves out there. Music critics who seem to hate that something so simple as a pentatonic bass line can expose something previously safe inside of them—who don’t understand the Marshall stack, the microKorg, Dance Dance Revolution, and the .gifset are self-contained power sources, ever renewing, ever inspiring.
Unlike most of her professional peers, Claire Boucher never dreamed about performing in front of adoring crowds. She instead longed to be Phil Spector — a great and powerful studio wizard who pulled the levers, turned the knobs, and manipulated the disembodied head on the other side of the curtain. But the easiest (and cheapest) artist to control is often oneself.
Art Angels opens with a plucky chamber-pop number named Laughing and Not Being Normal, filled out by sweeping strings and a brief, operatic vocal part. It’s swift and beautiful, and the classical bent puffs up the album from the beginning, staking a claim of significance and heralding an arrival. The arrival, obviously, is the new Grimes: lean, focused, and ready to claw for top spot in the pantheon of brilliant misfits.
Over the past five years, hardly any other artist in music has weaved together a catalog of material as dark and danceable as that of Canadian singer and producer Grimes. By making the slick production style and staid framework of ’80s pop contemporary and marrying it with a wide range of dejected, unsettling, and unsettled lyrical content, her music has a tendency to adopt the aesthetic of a gothic dance party raging at 2 a.m. at the modern equivalent of Studio 54.
"I'm only a man, I do what I can," Grimes sings with a deceptively innocent voice on "Kill V. Maim." She's not an artist to be trifled with, as her self-sufficient career asserts over and over again. Grimes' 2012 breakthrough, "Visions," couldn't have been more lo-fi and insular. It was recorded in her shuttered Montreal bedroom on a laptop, but its songs felt simultaneously catchy, disturbing and hypnotic.
We are witnessing a transition. The dissonant, synthetic strings and trilling soprano that lace opening track 'Laughing And Not Being Normal' feel like a remnant, a dark brooding outro to the 2012 Grimes colossus Visions that has spilled over into the present to remind us what came before and then to draw a line under it. As it builds to a grinding crescendo it just as quickly zips into silence.
Thus far, the story of Claire Boucher’s long-awaited fourth Grimes album has been that of an artist determined to assert control over her own narrative. Often, this is as much about correcting small misconceptions as it is about articulating big ideas, like the album’s worth of material she scrapped in 2014, which wasn’t necessarily a ‘scrapped album’ per se, so much as a bunch of “depressing” tracks no longer representative of where she was at. Likewise, while her startling new single ‘Flesh Without Blood’ is definitely not a breakup song (“I don’t write about love anymore,” she helpfully clarified on Twitter) it does concern a parting of ways of another sort: “It’s nice that you say you like me, but only conditionally”, she sings in a broadside against the fans who accused her of pandering to the mainstream with last year’s ‘Go’.
Clare Boucher’s first two studio albums as Grimes saw her lay down the foundations for her music and the third, Visions, was the finished product: avant-garde pop favouring an interplay of menacing, low-end dance beats and warped vocals. It was the type of music that flirted with the mainstream but always kept it at a distance. With her love of pop and a progression from murky atmospherics to danceable, "post-internet" electronic music, it comes as little surprise that new record Art Angels is her most accessible to date.