The build up to Grimes’ (Claire Boucher) new album, ‘Art Angels’ has been a turbulent one, or that’s what the media would have you believe. She reportedly decided to scrap an entire albums’ worth of material due to the fact that she didn’t deem it to be good enough claiming that it ‘sucked’. I don’t think that the build up to this album was a turbulent one in terms of creativity for Grimes like so many have penned, the build up was more of one of fine-tuning and mastering her art. These days Grimes gives off the impression that if her art isn’t perfect or where she wants it to be, she won’t put it out. It’s very much a different approach to making music when compared to her last album, ‘Visions’ which had her throwing together the album in a very short space of time – reportedly three weeks – while suffering from self-induced insomnia and under the influence of drugs.
From the moment that Grimes released the single ‘Go’ last year – a song that doesn’t appear on this album – it was clear that she was attempting to head down a path that embraced Pop music. Perhaps the albums’ worth of material that will never see the light of day was in fact Grimes’ first attempt at mastering the art of the Pop song while maintaining the distinctive sound that got her such a fanbase to begin with. This would make sense considering Boucher’s continuous DIY ethic that she applies to her music, for this album alone she learnt how to compose all of the string sections herself with no proper training as well as teaching herself a wide variety of other instruments. ‘Art Angels’ isn’t the sound of Grimes going to the direction of Pop to be more commercially successful either – this album is many things but commercially viable isn’t one of them – she sees the value of Pop music and wants to contribute towards today’s wide canon of Pop artists, especially in the age where Poptimism seems to be thriving.
Grimes makes Pop on her own terms on this album. The sound of this album is often extremely odd and borrows from a wide variety of genres as well as using a wider variety of instrumentation than on her breakout album ‘Visions’. Some of these ventures towards the opening of the album don’t quite stick the landing as intended like on the track ‘Scream’ which has her using one of her main selling points – being odd – and taking it to the point where it somehow seems extremely bland with there being a Taiwanese rapper, Aristophanes on the track. The song ‘California’ isn’t so much a bad song, rather one that doesn’t sound as flattering compared to Grimes’ other forays into Pop on here.
After the small stumble at the beginning the album is smooth sailing – it’s the sound of someone finding their feet before launching into what may be the most anticipated moment of her career so far. The song ‘Kill V. Maim’ has been recieved as the biggest stand-out from the entire album; it booms from the speakers as Grimes masters her vocal melodies with a voice that fluctuates between manic growling to her signature baby vocals. There are 80s-esque synthetic drum beats pounding, as well as a variety of guitar sounds, it all compiles to make one of the most catchy and up front songs of her career.
Guitars are one of the most frequently used instruments on this album and they’re applied in many different ways. From time to time they’ll be up front like on some of the moments from the song ‘Pin’ which sink into her grooves perfectly, yet some of the best moments are when they’re slightly more subtle like on the title track to the album which has a guitar line that sounds like it could have come straight out of a 90s Britpop song ( you’re going to have to trust me on this) yet has the atmospherics of the song ‘Ray of Light’ by Madonna. It’s the way in which Grimes mixes her wide variety of electronics, handclaps, live instrumentation and anything else she can get her hands onto that makes this one of the most well-rounded projects she’s ever put out sonically, with it being a fantastic progression for her in terms of complexity. As a producer Grimes can rival many people we consider to be the top hit makers in the charts while remaining odd and idiosyncratic, her compositions are layered and gorgeous. It would be especially great to see her thrive as a producer in an industry that she’s called out so often for being sexist.
In terms of topic itself, Grimes undertakes a massive amount of things, with her talking from the perspective of so many different people with so many different viewpoints – she portrays them with a wide variety of vocal inflections and effects such as on the aforementioned ‘Kill V. Maim’. A lot of the themes deal with struggling, a lot of them deal with art itself and it’s effects on the mind like on ‘Belly of The Beat’ where she sings ‘And you never get sad/ And you never get sick/ And you never get weak/ We’re deep/ In the belly of the beat’; and a whole lot of them tackle the subject of both being looked at in so many different ways from different people, and simultaneously looking back at them in different ways such as on ‘California’ where she attacks the media machine singing ‘I didn’t think you’d end up treating me so bad’.
The real turbulence in the build up to this album was what the media created themselves, consistently taking things that Boucher said out of context while audiences hounded her for more content and material. Throughout all of this pressure Grimes stuck to her guns and made sure that the next product she gave us would be of high quality and 100% something that she had control of and she didn’t fail us – ‘Art Angels’ takes Grimes one step closer to that point in an artists’ career where they can do whatever they want stylistically and get away with it.
Best songs: Kill V. Maim, Realiti, Butterfly, Belly of The Beat