Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, is the spokesperson for a certain type of sad girl/boy. They probably have a Tumblr and/or Instagram. They may or may not have non-organic colored hair. They are creative, and don’t feel like they fit in anywhere.
Except, at this point, there are a lot of us.
Grimes’ shot-heard-round-the-world, 2012’s Visions, trickled from the underground like a demon-possessed river of bubbling crude. You can practically hear the obsession, feel the strain of late nights half-bent over a Macbook screwing beats into corkscrews of twisted metal and regret. Visions came out of nowhere, and went everywhere.
How does Claire Boucher follow-up, with 3 years absence and a million expectations to fulfill? What happens when the World’s Most Misunderstood Artist is also the world’s most popular? “California”, the first song on Art Angels with discernible lyrics, tackles this paradox head-on. “California, you only like me when I’m sad,” she sings. It’s a properly miserablist sentiment, but the music is bright, bold, powerful, and direct.
Sonically, Art Angels sounds like nearly every high-profile, widescreen pop record from the last 2 years, from Taylor Swift’s 1989 to Chvrches’ recent Every Open Eye.
Grimes answers the question, definitely, on Art Angels‘ lead single, “Flesh Without Blood”. “It’s nice that you say you like me,” she sings, chirpily, over a solid club beat, which still bristles with experimental electronic flourishes. “And now I don’t care anymore,” she concludes.
Ultimately, Art Angels is the sound of Grimes doing what she wants, doing what she loves. Rather than being penalized for making a pop record, we should accept that this is where everyone’s head is at. There’s a time to get existential on Tumblr, and there’s a time to say “screw it”, and go dancing with your friends.
Grimes reminds us not to judge a book (or album) by its cover. There is a moment, on the gloriously aggressive “Kill V. Maim”, where she chants “B-E-H-A-V-E aggressive Tell me I’m a mobster looking so fresh, uh,” in her best approximation of a chiptune cheerleader. Despite Boucher sounding like an 8-bit backing track of a Chief Keef single rapping over a possessed Gameboy, you’re left feeling like you’ve just listened to a death metal track from the dark forests of Scandanavia.
Grimes proves you can be cute and tough. Artful, yet still popular. Personal, yet speaking to a wide group of people. Art Angels is an excellent mainstream follow-up to Visions, perfect for working out your existential woes on the dancefloor (preferably with lots and lots of dry ice fog).