Doing it her own way: Grimes' Art Angels
If anything is certain about Claire Boucher, known better by her stage name Grimes, it is that she is set on doing things on her terms. Backlash, then, that she has received in the time between the release of her game-changing 2012 record Visions and Art Angels, her fourth album digitally released earlier this month, seem to overlook Boucher’s fierce independence. Visions catapulted Grimes into the forefront of the realm of independent music; Boucher became a symbol of eccentricity and an icon of alternative sound.
Whilst Visions was, and still is, an ethereal masterpiece, Boucher’s music has since grown and changed. Yet the figure of Grimes that emerged in the spotlight in 2012 is one that many fans, and subsequent critics, have struggled to see morph. Where Boucher has been vocal of her insistence of following her own path, critics have been equally as vocal in their feeling of betrayal in her direction post-Visions. She signed to Jay-Z’s management company Roc Nation in 2013 and, the following year, caused utmost offence with the release of ‘Go’, a song originally intended for mainstream queen, Rihanna. Boucher had completely failed those who had heralded the quirky and alternative Grimes of Visions; she had sold herself out. The direction in which Grimes had gone had not been in the way that had been expected of her. Rather than following expectations, Boucher did things on her own terms.
Art Angels is, therefore, a pretty solid example of the ethos that drives Boucher’s career as a producer of music. Written and produced entirely by Boucher herself, Art Angels is not an album that conforms to the realm of mainstream music in the way that so many of Grimes’s critics feel so passionately that she has. Thus, the petty fights over Grimes completely overlook the actual musical output of Boucher since Visions - in favour of claiming ownership of a figure in the spotlight who has publicly denounced such a thing. And, if Art Angels can be briefly summarised, which is easier said than done, it is that Boucher really has little concern with her image. Take Art Angels’s artwork, for example, where Boucher is bluntly self-deprecating with a comic-book style bubble pricing the record at $100 000 000.
This aside, righteous fears that Grimes has tasted the bitter fruit of popular music and danced with the devil that is mainstream music go completely unwarranted on Art Angels. For in actual fact, it is a complex and, at times, impenetrable, listen. Sure, ‘California’ sounds a little like a throwaway pop anthem, but it’s haunting when Boucher sings with upbeat enthusiasm “you only like me when you think I’m looking sad”. Of course, despite the irony that gushes throughout, it’s a song that is not to everyone’s taste. Yet it undoubtedly stands as a song of Boucher’s defiance as opposed to settling for anything less - or, you know, more in monetary terms because Boucher, you know, completely sold herself out. But before the ex-convert or critic can get comfortable in a nest of I-told-you-so, ‘SCREAM’ tears expectations to pieces. Whilst Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes sets the pace at breakneck speed, bloodcurdling screams are as unsettling as they are sure intended to be.
‘Flesh without Blood’ restores the sweet sing-a-long nature of ‘California’, with sour lyrical undertones once again. One of the greatest feats of Art Angels is the inclusion of much more of Boucher’s flexible vocals than before. This does not compromise the sheer range of sound that Grimes has become synonymous with, as for one, her own voice becomes subject to the distortion that any other sound on Art Angels may experience. Whilst in ‘Pin’ this sees extremely honeyed vocals take the forefront, ‘World Princess Part II’ is showered in much of that Grimes-esque sound that many feared she had abandoned.
With 14 tracks that are fundamentally so diverse, Art Angels becomes hard to define in its entirety. Given the criticism Grimes has received it also seems pointless to try and put a label on it. It’s not an album that wants to be labelled. In ways, this does leave room for there to be moments on Art Angels that are not to personal taste. Yet, at easy as it seems to skip over piano-ballad ‘Easily’, it is nonetheless an example of Grimes’s multifaceted musical talent, and a definite grower of a song. Whilst the reworking of the electropop dance track ‘Realiti’, the demo for which Grimes released as a music video earlier this year, is set only to feature as a bonus track on the CD, it is one of Art Angels’s strongest moments.
There is no arguing that Art Angels is absorbed in pop, in the same stroke that there’s no argument that it adheres to standards of mainstream pop. There’s never a moment of mediocrity nor is there empty heart-wrenching songwriting at play. As Boucher sings on closing track ‘Butterfly’, “if you’re looking for a dream girl / I’ll never be your dream girl”. Unless, of course, that dream involves a willingness to accept Boucher entirely on her own terms.