For three whole years now, a rather hungry and curious public have been eagerly anticipating and trying to find out any form of detail they possibly can regarding Canada’s very own Grimes (a.k.a. Claire Boucher) – who’s third album Visions (released in 2012) was nothing short of a surprising mainstream and critical success.
Her sound was something of an intriguing anomaly – minimalistic electronica mixed with reverb-soaked vocals to the point of indecipherability, an incredible ambient pop sensibility and combined with a highly eye-catching, fashion-conscious image that clearly models Japanese culture, fashion and art. There was not one store, radio station, or club that was not playing Grimes‘ infectious brand of electro-pop.
In the meantime, we learnt that she signed a management deal with Roc Nation, scrapped an albums worth of material, and released a couple of songs – one being the demo version of ‘Realiti‘. She also released the highly divisive and musically controversial ‘Go‘ that was originally written for Rihanna. Grimes kept it due to Rihanna‘s management ungratefully turning it down, but apparently it alienated a fair amount of Grimes’ fanbase due to the Blood Diamonds influenced ‘dubstep / EDM’ direction. This was enough of a catalyst to scrap a whole album and start again. So, does Art Angels live up to the hype?
First of all, the production on this album is arguably the greatest that Grimes has produced yet – expanding her eclectic range of production skills. What’s noticeable on Art Angels is the far clearer and prominence of her vocals. In previous releases, her vocals were a lot more wishy-washy, modulated, and audibly ambiguous, where on this album you can actually translate her lyrics to the greater degree. Although her vocals are a lot more clear, this has not taken away any element of Grimes‘ sound to that she is distinctly credited for. The most rewarding thing about the production on this album is the willingness to produce music that she has not particularly delved into previously. Let’s look at two particular album highlights, ‘Artangels‘ and ‘Venus Fly‘…
‘Artangels’ is without a shadow of a doubt the best song on this entire album – a highly infectious, sun-kissed electro-funk song that has an incredibly catchy guitar loop that is very reminiscent of La Roux‘s song ‘Fascination‘. It takes elements of Nile Rodgers funk laden grooviness from 80s electro and combines this with a very serene yet hypnotising ambient club rhythm. One can guarantee that it will be the ultimate summertime club tune of 2016. Then you have ‘Venus Fly‘, featuring Janelle Monae, with its mixture of club oriented sounds, including late 90s Ibiza style production, with sub-heavy Jamaican dancehall, almost tribal-like rhythms and beautiful strings arrangements. Both songs here are fine examples of, not only how Grimes‘ sound has expanded production wise, but how much she has blossomed as a musician.
Secondly, the expanded musicianship on Art Angels is quite simply, incredibly rewarding. As previously touched upon, Grimes has expanded her sound by also teaching herself how to play the guitar, drums, keys, ukulele, violin, and more. This is evident on tracks such as ‘Belly Of The Beat‘, ‘Laughing And Not Being Normal‘, and ‘Kill V. Maim‘. The latter being another incredible album highlight that sounds like an adrenaline-fuelled future-pop anthem reminiscent of Love.Angel.Music.Baby. era Gwen Stefani, mixed with some production sensibilities that channel the Invaders Must Die era The Prodigy. The most enchanting thing about this track particularly is just its ability to let the listener want to jump around and go wild.
The album is littered with absolute electro-pop gems, but Art Angels isn’t perfect by a long shot. There are two main grievances that bring this album down a notch. The main problem lies with the first three songs on this album. Whilst the album opener ‘Laughing And Not Being Normal‘ is a subtle way to set the tone of the record, the following two tracks are just filler. The songs ‘California‘, and ‘Scream‘ feat Asian underground vocalist Aristophanes, could have just been taken off this record altogether. Grimes’ vocals on ‘California‘ are great, but the lyrical content makes you cringe by certain standards. The gist of the song is just a really cheesy electro-country clanger that seems to have the same kind of appeal that Riff Raff‘s country-howler ‘Time‘ had to its audience. ‘Scream‘ could have also been a lot better. The first verse is a build up of spoken word lyrics by Aristophanes, but the chorus is incredibly underwhelming. It’s clear that the screaming vocal in the chorus is meant to be contrary to the song title, but the main thing that brings this song down is the production and instrumental dynamics. This track could have sounded like the electro-pop bastard child of Nine Inch Nails mixed with The 5,6,7,8’s.
The second flaw with the album is particularly to do with the fact that Art Angels could have been a solid concept album. Instead, Grimes produced a collection of songs and put them into one package. This could explain why the start of the album was so weak, as it sky-rockets when fourth track ‘Flesh Without Blood‘ takes off. The album has some incredible moments, but there could have been further consistency with the album’s flow if there was some form of a transitional formation between some songs. It would have made it feel somewhat more complete.
Whilst Art Angels is without a doubt Grimes‘ finest, most experimental, and rewarding studio album to date, she has yet to really unleash her ‘magnum opus’, so to speak. Tracks such as ‘Artangels‘, ‘Kill V. Maim‘, ‘Belly Of The Beat‘, ‘Venus Fly‘, and ‘Flesh Without Blood‘ show her potential and points to the heights to which she can truly achieve. It will take a couple of listens to really ‘get it’, but when you do you will find the finest batch of future-pop songs released this year. A terrific comeback album that makes the horizons that Grimes is sailing towards vastly wider and a lot more realistic. You can guarantee that Art Angels‘ campaign to take over your speakers has only just begun, just be prepared to be singing and dancing your heart out at very soon!