Release Date: Feb 21, 2020
Record label: 4AD
Always down when I'm not up, guess it's just my rotten luck. Grimes has always been an acquired taste. What has unfortunately defined her career over the five years since Art Angels catapulted her into the pop stratosphere she's been so conflicted about since bobbing down the Mississippi all those years ago, however, has been how much outside forces have enhanced that image. Yet while the deconstruction of first her persona and then her private person in the press, and the predictable fetishization of Grimes as that tired old female trope - the difficult, nasty woman - have all contributed to Grimes' divisiveness, it's Claire Boucher's seemingly willful inability to see how she arrived in this predicament that is most telling.
In 2011, Grimes was eager to say in an interview that she had "been studying pop stars." Since emerging 10 years ago as a DIY ingénue out of Montreal's freewheeling music scene, Claire Boucher has become known for her experimental production that often traded discernible lyrics for otherworldly and synthetic vocal textures. The words she sang didn't figure into what made her music so fascinating--it was how she used her vocals to mimic whalesong or aliensong, a futurist reimagining of the transfixing voices of Enya and Mariah Carey, over irresistible melodies. Yes, Grimes always wanted to be a pop star, but on her own creative terms.
What's that quote, well behaved women rarely make history? Despite its appropriation, fated to appear in neon on the walls of overpriced cocktail bars, and the confusion about who - if anyone – actually said the damn thing, this is an appropriate mindset with which to enter Ms Anthropocene. Because Grimes is no stranger to controversy, her synthesis from trauma healing rave goth through pop princess into ADHD producer, and now pregnant with a mini Elon Musk, Claire Boucher has always raged against any and all boxes that the media has tried to push her into. So now, five years on from Art Angels, we have Ms Anthropocene, a concept album about the anthropomorphic Goddess of Climate Change, a psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/beauty queen who relishes the end of the world.
Such an eclipse, one which disproportionately afflicts young female artists, could be explained as a product of many things: misogyny, a rabid press, the behemoth of "celebrity culture", or a series of genuinely bonkers antics that may or may not be rooted in the trauma of fame. In Boucher's case it seems a little from each column: Vice and co have delighted in ribbing her about her experimental eye surgery and her plan to change her name to a lowercase, italicised 'c'. But did she do these things? Did she declare that her wellness routine involved taking a bunch of supplements and lying in a sensory deprivation tank to "astro-glide" to other dimensions? Yes.
For years now, the voice of Claire Boucher has evoked a feeling unparalleled by anything else - like a sense of artificial etherealism. The soft, almost ecclesiastic nature of these vocals lends her music the otherworldly vibe that has been associated with Grimes as an artist since the very beginning, and Miss Anthropocene is very much in-keeping with that legacy. 'Miss Anthropocene' is a self-described concept album about "the anthropomorphic Goddess of Climate Change: A psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/beauty-Queen who relishes the end of the world".
Grimes' music has frequently sounded like pop music for the end of the world, so it makes sense that she leans into that mood on Miss Anthropocene. On her fifth album, she taps into mythology's power to make vast forces easier to comprehend by envisioning climate change as a demon-goddess pop star (as hinted at by the title's clever blend of "misanthrope" and "Anthropocene"). Humanizing the harm humans have caused to the environment by evoking deities of destruction and the singles chart is an intriguing concept that Grimes commits to completely.
Having first made her name via 2012's 'Visions' - a glitchy, lucid dream of an album, recorded during a nine-day amphetamine marathon - you'd never expect Grimes to go about the day-to-day business of being an acclaimed pop star in the standard manner. But, even by her own standards, the route from 2015's 'Art Angels' to her latest, 'Miss Anthropocene', has been an eyebrow-raising one. There was the public dissing of her longterm label 4AD, who she blamed for the delay in releasing new material, declaring "[the] music industry is trash," and the bizarre decision to change her offstage name last year from Claire to simply lowercase 'c'.
Grimes has described Miss Anthropocene as a nu-metal-inspired album about human extinction and the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change. Listening to these ten songs, however, that's certainly not the takeaway. Rather, this sounds like the logical followup to 2015's Art Angels. It's a little darker and heavier than that prior record's vibrant palette, but it still has everything we've come to expect from Grimes: "4ÆM" pivots between ethereal ambience and banging beats; "Violence" has a thudding four-on-the-floor pulse; and "Delete ….
The Lowdown: Since the 2015 release of Grimes' fourth album, Art Angels, Claire Boucher has stayed busy. She started dating tech mogul Elon Musk, streamed Bloodborne with Purity Ring's Megan James, worked with Janelle Monaé and Bring Me the Horizon, and most recently, became pregnant with her first child. Grimes had also been clashing with her record label, 4AD, to let her release new music a couple of years ago.
In 2009, the Canadian artist born Claire Boucher--now going by c--built a houseboat, loaded it with chickens and potatoes and set off from Minneapolis down the Mississippi River. (Intending to reach New Orleans, she and her then-boyfriend only made it a few miles.) This story in Minnesota's Star Tribune was published years before Boucher became Grimes and released her groundbreaking album, Visions. She was not yet an art-pop sensation.
M iss Anthropocene has had a lengthy, difficult birth. As perhaps befits an album that was announced in 2017, then derailed by ferocious-sounding spats between artist and record company, rerecording, and rejigging of the track listing, it comes with a weighty concept attached. Miss Anthropocene is, Grimes says, a work based around the idea of anthropomorphising climate change into the figure of a villainous goddess ("she's naked all the time and she's made out of ivory and oil") whose name is a conflation of "misanthrope" and the proposed scientific term for the current geological epoch, and who celebrates the imminent destruction of the world.