Vancouver’s Grimes walks in with a posse, most likely members of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan, holding her adorable Totoro plush. She sits on one of the tables to the side, admiring the lighted stage, looking at the mingling going on everywhere. Her record Visions is Electronic goodness. It verges on pop, but it wears a rusty cape to hide most of itself. The musician smiles at Feist when she wins the coveted Canadian award. By the end of the night, Grimes is still emitting talent, especially with her performance of “Oblivion” earlier. And with that, she begins to create anew.
But in the process of constructing an album, she halts when her track “Go” didn’t gain the fan admiration she expected. When Grimes releases the video for “REALiTi,” the journey for her voice, for the next big thing begins. And with each day that passes, she remembers her own lyric:
“Every morning there are mountains to climb / Taking all my time / Oh, when I get up / This is what I see / Welcome to reality.”
It’s nearly the end of 2015 and Grimes releases Art Angels, taking her cape off and revealing a chainsaw with teardrops painted on it. It’s been like that the whole way through, but now she’s really showing her bite, her grip on her emotions. She’s not taking a completely Pop route; it should properly be called Alternative.
Art Angels immediately takes a baroque Pop style with its intro “Laughing and Not Being Normal,” using keys emanating sounds in between darkness and light. Grimes sings high notes like she’s resigned to the assassin contracts detractors figuratively put on her. With “California,” Joni Mitchell’s own same-named song transfers its own blood to fuel the upset lyrics that Claire Boucher puts in. She begins to show herself as a woman scorned, if not by love, then the world. Fresh sunny strings show that while the state might always have shine, the people aren’t always that way. “Scream” utilizes Mandarin lyrics via Aristophanes to generate an up-tempo song that drives through streets. Along the sidewalks of the tune are maniacal screams straight out of Pandora’s Box.
“Flesh without Blood” is pure pop that finds itself all over the place, being a hit-or-miss for fans and non-fans alike. Throughout it, and within the album, are guitars that give a pulse and drums that are more comic book-like than normal. “Artangels” and closer “Butterfly” successfully use dream pop and electropop respectively to convey discourse against the manic pixie dream girl that some imagine Grimes to be. “Kill v. Maim,” a song that has a maintained insanity–boy, what an oxymoron–supposedly imagines Al Pacino as a vampire, according to the singer herself. It mostly feels like a kitten going feral and levelling a city to the ground, something Grimes can possibly do. With symphonic and distorted inserts fuelling the berserk nature of the beat, the song produces the catchiest pop phrases of this year.
R&B is also a genre that finds comfort in this record. Whether it’s from the almost-heavenly “Belly of the Beat,” with its clean guitar and recorded-on-a-tape-recorder vocals, or “Venus Fly” with its dance-eliciting bass and Janelle Monáe feature, Art Angels indicates that Boucher’s decision to halt her project was a worthwhile choice. Grimes can make near-squeaky vocals bearable (“World Princess Pt II”), while also creating distortion that explodes as good as pop rocks (“Pin”).
Coming in at the eleventh hour, at a point where inputting a fresh album into a Best Of… list is strange, Grimes plummets down from her rocket ship and hands in her project right on time. Less nightclub-friendly than Visions, but still managing to be better, Art Angels is a piece of Canadian music that should be put in a time capsule. It’s not perfect, but it’s so damn great that it would be a privilege to be struck by the artist’s chainsaw.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.