Claire Boucher, more famously known as Grimes, is a well-known name around CKUT 90.3 FM: she was an intern here years ago while studying neuroscience at McGill University, and got her start in the music world right here in Montreal. Her fourth studio album, Art Angels, emphasizes her self-described “ADD music,” bouncing around erratically between different musical styles under the nebulous umbrella of art pop. She continues to rely heavily on looping effects and layering, and utilizes her voice to it’s full potential, manipulating it with effects and in the next breath singing earnestly with the mature voice of a seasoned female artist.
The album in entirety is a dizzying experience, a roller-coaster of sound and effects shifting wildly from experimental electronica to Kimbra-esque summer pop, replete with lush melodies and full, intricate layers. All the while, Boucher’s falsetto floats lightly above the instrumentals, weaving in and out of the music. Art Angels is never disjointed; the tracks flow easily and fast, maintaining an intense pace and constantly engaging the listener to pay closer attention. The album is either a synesthete’s paradise or worst nightmare: the melodies and mixes produce technicolor visions at highway speeds, rarely slowing down save for a few well-placed tracks.
Art Angels opens with “Laughing and Not Being Normal,” a short experimental track that sets the tone for the album, incorporating different genres within a space of two minutes. The track ends in cacophony but leads right into the peppy electro-pop number “California.” For this track it is impossible not to bounce around; while not particularly a new sound, it is insanely catchy and well-engineered, pulling the listener into the lush jungle of the next twelve tracks. The third track is a wild departure from the previous songs; it features heavy guitar, aggressive drums, and rabid breathing and screaming provided by Boucher punctuates the rapid-fire Mandarin vocals whispered by Taiwanese artist Aristophanes.
After this the album begins a cycle of poppy electronic beats with high vocals mixed with darker, more experimental sounds. Following the trail blazed by “California, tracks such as “Flesh Without Blood,” “Belly of the Beat,” the title track “Artangels,” “Pin,” and the closer “Butterfly” retain the art pop formula, with minor variations and idiosyncrasies. Grimes shows her mastery of song engineering and production in these tracks, but the real experimental air that began at her roots is demonstrated in other tracks.
Take “Kill vs. Maim,” a track that melds seamlessly together while bouncing from 2000-era indie pop to light grunge; Boucher sings earnestly and without any voice manipulation one minute, then raises her voice electronically several octaves to an earsplitting falsetto in the next. Lightning-bolt claps of synth and electronic instruments add depth and variety to this wild, fast-paced track. “Easily” starts slowly with simple piano, pushing Boucher’s voice to the forefront, sans vocal manipulation. As a slow drum beat, reverb, and pedal-loop effects are introduced gradually, the track blooms into a lush sound garden, experimenting with layers and soundscapes. Finally, “Venus Fly,” which features the talented artist Janelle Monáe, is a punchy and powerful track that incorporates electronic and house beats with whimsical lyrics, demonstrating masterful mixing and production on the part of Boucher.
Overall, Art Angels demonstrates that Grimes is far from her point of peaking. Her innovation, will to experiment and incorporate many genres of music, and passion for the craft continues to shine, and she clearly put work into this album, hardly resting on her laurels from 2012’s Visions. It’s certainly refreshing to see a young artist’s creative spirit so prominently in their music, and I hope to see this trend continue as Grimes continues to pursue her passion.
-Review by Juliana Van Amsterdam