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Grimes: Art Angels

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Grimes, the alias of Vancouver born Claire Boucher, has finally got round to releasing her fourth album, Art Angels, having scrapped an entire collection of material since releasing 2012’s critically acclaimed Visions. Having appeared on virtually every ‘best album of the year’ and ‘best track of the year’ throughout the blogosphere, it’s understandable that Boucher wanted to get her follow up just right. The reason given for scrapping the previous material was for it being ‘too depressing’, so the onus on Grimes was to deliver some convincingly cheery songs. Well, while this LP is dark in places, it is a landmark album, and the quirkiness in the extreme is as effective as ever.

If I were only allowed one sentence to describe this album, it would be: watching Japanese anime, with no English translation, whilst on a very strong dose of hallucinogenic drugs. Laughing And Not Being Normal adequately sets the tone with a MIDI orchestra, synths, and a piano led vocal with a strong middle eastern styling, as Grimes shows off the wonderful technical prowess she possesses with her lungs early on. Third track, SCREAM, opens with a guitar riff not dissimilar to Rammstein, and rapping from Taiwan’s Aristophanes (in Mandarin, of course). As the track’s capitalisation suggests, Grimes lets out some truly blood-curdling screams, as unsettling as any of the death cries you heard whilst watching Game of Thrones.

Lead single, Flesh Without Blood, sticks to Grime’s guitar-led pop/dance blueprint, and also leaves you slightly in awe of the multi-faceted nature of this album – not only did Grimes produce most of the music herself, she also created the art work, and served as writer, director, editor, and colourist on the track’s music video. Kill V. Maim is slightly more challenging, with abstract lyrics (if you can catch them), and added heaps of distortion, but it is beguiling nonetheless. Title track, Artangels (or technically not due to the grammatisation, Grimes just refuses to do anything by the book) is pure delight, like a laboratory-born clone of Wham, Bjork, the Blade Runner soundtrack, and the remaining musical DNA infused with Grime’s indecipherable personality. Boucher describes pop in her own words as “music that seeks to hit the pleasure centre”, and the title track penetrates deeply. This is truly as good as pop music gets.

Easily restores the weirdness, big time, starting as a piano-led ballad, reverting back to pop, and ending with a baroque string quartet outro. Track number ten, Realiti, was originally written for the scrapped album. Thankfully, it appears here, giving us one of the album’s darkest moments – perhaps due to the absence of acoustic instruments. Realiti lets all of the dance music elements come to the fore, with a pulsating bass line, EDM styled synths, and very heavy use of delay on the vocals.

Boucher is a self-confessed anime lover, and while that is fairly obvious in a lot of her music, it is most prevalent in World Princess Pt. II. When she sings: ‘don’t be unkind, you’re so far behind me’, she could easily be addressing the rest of the music industry, such is the level of invention and production mastery on this song. Art Angels' closing act, Butterfly, opens with an intro that sounds so much like it should accompany an eighties educational VHS that you wonder if Grimes intended it as comic relief following some darker material, but what follows is no joke – the final song ensures that the album ends with yet more pop with the highest level of invention one can muster.

If we were giving Grimes gold stickers just on her mission to release an album that isn’t too depressing, we’d certainly fill the page. But Art Angels is so much more than that. Boucher has given us a visionary album that is bizarre and magnificent all at the same time throughout; quirky pop as excellent as it can feasibly be. This young Canadian songstress continues to be one of the most exciting artists on the planet.

Review by Adam Protz