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Grimes: Art angels - review

Nov 17, 2015 Music

Grimes’ fourth album is aesthetically contradictory, but in a good way.

Adele’s long-anticipated new album may be garnering the column inches this month, but really, the fourth album by Claire Elise Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes, will have a much deeper, more long-lasting presence.

In fact, it’s hard to find a twenty-something indie singer-songwriter with an electronic emphasis that hasn’t to some degree been influenced by Grimes’ first 4AD label album, Visions (2012), so radical was its bold fusion of musically disparate styles. It went on to become one of the most critically celebrated and awarded albums of that year.

Art Angels, it turns out, replaces a fully recorded then unapologetically rejected album planned for 2014, which Grimes is said to have found too depressing and therefore unsuited to live performance. In its place is a record with much of the Grimes sound as before, but the arrangements and layering are a lot more elaborate, and her pop sensibilities more clearly defined.

Having spearheaded a style that thinks nothing of awkward but intriguing transpositions — try drifting ornate rococo orchestrations with almost ridiculously poppy choruses and helium-voiced R&B vocal curlicues — Art Angels feels as if she is determined to take the idea to its illogical but intriguing conclusion.

By facing up to the artifice, contrarily, Grimes is somehow more genuinely authentic.

Her deconstructivist take on modern music will have the scent of evil to those who cling to the idea of some kind of imagined authenticity and “soul”, but she’s just revealing an industry secret: that most of what passes for passion in modern music is a preset or a programme or a voice in the machine. By facing up to the artifice, contrarily, Grimes is somehow more genuinely authentic.

The other great thing about Art Angels is that it isn’t just one sound, but dips its toes into different waters without losing itself. So Grimes can easily change tone from “California”, where she gets “carried away commodifying the pain” and worries that “when the ocean rises up I’ll drown”, to the gritty, punk-injected “Scream”, featuring Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes.

If you listen hard enough through the digital manipulation, you can hear Grimes mining at least half a century of popular culture, so it’s a back-to-the-future scenario that sometimes might combine an early 1960s girl group trope with the hint of a B-52s guitar or a Depeche Mode synth line.

It’s astonishingly easy to like if you’re not stubbornly predisposed against it. And don’t mind the occasional chipmunk-style vocal line.


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