In August of last year, Grimes dropped one of the most divisive songs of the year in the form of “Go (feat. Blood Diamonds)”. In the past year, Claire Boucher had gone from obscure electronic artist to having her proper debut album Visions accepted as a new classic that had a lot of people excited about the future of electronic music again, for the first time in a long time. Here was a female electronic musician, dropping some of the best music videos of the year, and communicating with her fanbase in a way very few other artists did. Then she dropped a dubstep influenced track and the world went insane. They say hindsight is 20/20, and listening to “Go” now seems like a totally logical step to what Grimes sound has become in just two short years. Signing to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label, headlining music festivals around the world, and having her every breath followed by the music community, she’s done it her own way and all whilst wearing her influences, from early 2000s pop music to Japanese otaku culture, on her sleeve. “Go” is now a long gone glimpse of one possible future for Grimes, and the strong negative reaction towards the track made her totally derail what Art Angels was originally supposed to be.
Now, we finally have the album in front of us, and it’s as uncompromising and weird as a left turn can get. No, Grimes hasn’t made a Nu-Metal/Free Jazz album, but what she has done is fully embraced her love for pop music and folded this into her existing sound. Essentially, nothing here is like the stylings of Visions, other than maybe the vocals. The album begins with a mildly demented and off-kilter piano ballad, and then launches straight into a country tinged melody on “California”. Immediately, it feels like Grimes is making the exact kind of music she wants to make, and that’s an incredibly reassuring feeling.
Soaring hooks, backing claps and drums, propelling synths, and all the weird effects you could want. There’s never a dull moment or lack of a mood or sonic change that keeps you on your feet. The most sublime moments of the album come when Grimes finds her groove and makes a true pop song with teeth. “Flesh Without Blood”, the lead single of the album and the album’s finest tune, cements itself as one of the years best songs with incredible melody, an explosive but dreamy hook, and bouncy production. Songs like this and “Artangels” are when the album truly comes into its own, fitting Grimes’ eclectic sound into massive pop structures, subverting both indie and pop expectations. However, within all this upbeat melodic music, there’s little time for the down-tempo reflection that was found on Visions. Songs like “SCREAM (feat. Aristophanes)” and “Life in the Vivid Dream” attempt to break away from the pop framework and are fine songs on their own, but feel like filler in the bigger picture. Despite it’s occasional lack of cohesion, a lesser artist wouldn’t even be able to put two of these songs next to eachother on an album, but Grimes pulls it off with tact and artfulness.
“Venus Fly” with Janelle Monáe is another one of the albums highlights, as is REALiTi, showing that Boucher can iterate on her pop sound with the same invention and dreaminess she brought so much of on her previous projects. Art Angels is at times scattershot, and at other times gloriously, unrepentantly pop. It’s weird, genre-less, uncompromising electronic music. Hopefully, future developments of Grimes’ sound will find how to perfectly meld the groundbreaking electronic sounds of Visions and the pop structures of Art Angels, but for now, Art Angels stands as a testament to inventiveness. Regardless, in all the iterations of Grimes and her music in all the different multi-verses, Art Angels is a triumph of one of the most idiosyncratic artists in electronic and indie music today.