"... a human zeitgeist, redrawing all the binaries and boundaries by which we define pop music and forcing us to come along."
In 2015, Grimes gave us one of the albums of the decade, an unflinching and complete body of work that is everything pop music should be - uncompromising, exhilarating and, somehow, universally accessible. Art Angels is her fourth record, but the second since her breakthrough with the groundbreaking Visions in 2012. Expectations were high. She had no choice but to grow beyond her landscape and Art Angels did just that, it's a beautiful beast, slick and gritty, fun and funny yet horrifying and grotesque all all at once, something not many self-sufficient artists could actually imagine, let alone create. These 14 tracks articulate a pop vision that is incontrovertibly hers, inviting the wider world in.
Canadian born and known as Claire Boucher to her Mum, Grimes scrapped a fill body of work after releasing the critically-acclaimed Visions in 2012. She had appeared on virtually every "best album of the year" and "best track of the year" article throughout the blogsphere, the pressure was on and it's understandable that she wanted to get the follow-up just right now that success was in her hands. The scrapped material, according to Boucher, was too depressing and she wanted to deliver more convincingly cheery songs. The result delivered, albeit with some dark moments, it still became a landmark album. It's akin to viewing non-translated Japanese anime while on acid.
The delightful 'Flesh Without Blood' arrived first as the lead single and remains one of the single-most brilliant singles of that decade. Its driving, guitar-led dance/pop, pulsating bass and sinfully sublime hooks throughout and moved her out of her Visions cycle and hit reset. It beautifully set the tone for Art Angels and creating significantly more awe for the multi-faceted nature of her music. Not only did she produce most of it herself, she created the artwork - including a piece of every track on the album - and served as writer director, editor and colourist on the music videos. At the time, before and arguably even now, she is impossibly cool. Watch this and change my mind...
Another single, 'Kill V. Maim' is slightly more challenging, with abstract lyrics and added heaps of distortion, but it is beguiling nonetheless. Down here in Australia, 'California' received a lot of airplay despite not getting a single release. Its breezy nature is pure delight, like a lab-born clone of Wham, Bjork and music from Blade Runner infused with Grimes' indecipherable personality. The title track isn't dissimilar in its approach - she has autotune and a gleeful guitar riff on her side. 'SCREAM' might be one of the aforementioned 'dark' moments. Featuring a Rammstein-esque guitar riff and rapping from Taiwan’s Aristophanes (in Mandarin, of course), the track’s capitalisation suggests that some seriously blood-curdling screams are coming and boy do they arrive as unsettling as any of the death cries you heard whilst watching Game of Thrones.
She describes pop music as "music that seeks to hit pleasure centre" and these ones do it. This is truly as good as pop music gets. Art Angels is, quite simply, a visionary album that is simultaneously bizarre and magnificent. This is quirky pop as excellent as it can feasibly be, making Grimes one of the continuously consistent and exciting artists on the planet.
Some Fast Facts :
Born and raised in Vancouver, Claire Boucher began releasing music under the Grimes moniker in 2007, according to time stamps on her MySpace page. The social media site allowed her to associate herself with three musical genres and she liked the word "grime", then an embryonic British music scene. She attended university in Montreal, studying Russian and Neuroscience.
Art Angels received universal acclaim upon its release and landed in many publications' best albums of 2015 as well as rating very highly in end of decade countdowns.
Boucher is incredibly self-sufficient. After recording previous album entirely on GarageBand, she went on to learn how to play the guitar, drums, keys, ukulele and violin to open up her musical directions on Art Angels. She recorded the entire album at home in Los Angeles to dodge the pressure and paying per hour for a professional studio.
Furthermore, she is a visual artist and self-directed all the music videos and artwork, including a piece for each track on the album. She often delights her 1.7 million Instagram followers with illustrations and posters that she creates herself, showcasing her punk, goth, and e-girl aesthetic.
While universally applauded, Grimes revealed in 2019 that she doesn't like Art Angels. She stated "The last album was a piece of crap. I feel like people really misread it and it feels like a stain on my life."
Please note the lack of mentioning her love life in these notes, we don't hold any previous sins against her. Besides, she released the absolute banger 'Player Of Games' after her last relationship. For that, she is forgiven.
What the critics said :
"... a marvel of meticulous, even obsessive home-studio recording, uncompromised by bandmates or collaborators" - Billboard. “... impossible to resist, possessing an instant, limb-grabbing appeal."
"Fourteen ambitiously avant-pop numbers, just as potently sugary as they are powerfully ominous" - The 405. "... manages to face mounting hype with a skilful redefinition of boundaries. It may be new territory, but she's navigating it pretty damn well" - Under The Radar. "She flicks between influences high and low, twisting the radio frequencies both domestic and extraterrestrial." - Spin. "... sacrificed some of what made her seem so alien when 4AD debut Visions emerged, embracing the pop orthodoxy. She's still laughing and not being normal, only this time, it's all the way to the bank"" - NME.