Album Review: Grimes—“Art Angels”

By Helena Najm

In a 2012 studio interview with Dazed and Confused magazine, Grimes stated that pop music was instantly gratifying, with simple drum patterns and catchy hooks and that her role as a pop music performer was not as much being a musician as it was being a “curator of stuff”. While it is absolutely undeniable that Grimes is a musician (and a great one at that), it is evident that she has been able to bridge the gap between the simple, gratifying pop that she admires and the more alternative, wide-ranging influences that she curates on her intense new album, Art Angels.

Art Angels is not Grimes-goes-pop by any means, but it is easy to perceive it as being that way after one listen. While tracks like “SCREAM” and “Kill v Maim” immediately stand out as being more aggressive bangers, Claire Boucher does let herself channel the softer pop influences that she has always championed such as Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift on the country-pop, bittersweet “California” or the infectious “Artangels”.

Album art for Art Angels

Album art for Art Angels

While this album has proven to be more polarizing among long-time fans than her previous efforts (some accusing her of losing the unique edge that she had perfected on Visions), Art Angels manages to continue the trend of embracing retro pop and electronic sounds and recreating them for our generation, thus making tired sounds seem new and fresh again. Despite the aforementioned complaints, the songs that are most jarring in comparison to her body of work prove to be the album’s greatest standouts (“SCREAM”, “Kill v Maim”, “Venus Fly”), and even her most bubblegum-pop moments (“Flesh Without Blood”, “Pin”) offer an excellent bridge between alternative and pop music without fully playing into predictable tropes of either genre.

Fans and journalists alike saw this album as being Grimes’ chance to prove that Visions was proof of her potential rather than an accidental success, and she managed to prove many things in the process of making Art Angels: she proved that she could completely reinvent the way in which she constructed songs (mastering multiple live instruments over the course of three years to do so), that her production skills were to be reckoned with (producing the entire album herself) and that even if she evolved and experimented with different sounds, she could retain the old quirk that made her into the celebrated musician that she has become. After all, who else but Grimes could satisfy your desire for a song inspired by Michael Corleone if he were a gender-bending vampire?

Instead of hiding behind muddled vocals like she did on Visions, Boucher bursts out and makes herself known while showcasing carefully chosen female collaborators Janelle Monaé and Aristophanes 貍貓. While Boucher expressed her perspective of the album being sung by a gang of her personas, Art Angels remains her album through and through. Relistening to Visions may make some nostalgic for her previous style, but it made me realize the leaps and bounds that Grimes has made in terms of her confidence in her musicianship and voice.

I can only hope that Grimes does eventually decide to release the mythicized “scrapped” album so that I can take a glimpse into her process from one fantastic album to the next. Having been immersed in Art Angels’ world for the past five days (I haven’t listened to anything else, but you won’t hear me complaining), it cannot be described as otherworldly, as some of her past tracks could, but rather as superhuman. The distinction lies in the fact that the songs are extremely grounded in earthly emotions and experiences, facing her many qualms with reality while maintaining her characteristic flair for the supernatural. Boucher does so with so much finesse, style and passion that no one else could have made this album, no matter how many naysayers claim that it is generic. My one complaint? I preferred the demo version of “REALiTi”, but I can recognize that the Art Angels version is better suited to the album as a whole.

Keep on keeping on Claire, and may you rage on for those of us who don’t know how to express those sentiments as beautifully as you do. (4AD)

Listen: “Flesh Without Blood / Life in the Vivid Dream”

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