Grimes (the stage name of ex-McGill student, Claire Boucher) is not your dream girl. In a music industry that wants to turn performers into a unified brand, Grimes falls into an odd position. She defies easy characterization: She is too weird to be a true pop artist, but is too connected to the genre to fully discount it. Her latest project, Art Angels works through this complex image.
The album moves from relatively simple pop ballads like “California” to the more bizarre pieces like “SCREAM,” all without missing a beat. While she was known on her previous album for grimy, synth-driven songs like “Oblivion,” Art Angels features punchy guitar riffs that sound straight off of a soft-rock mix—especially in tracks such as the title song, “Artangels.” These instrumentals are woven in with Boucher’s ethereal voice in a way that recalls dreamy days of summer.
What makes Art Angels such an interesting listen is that it acts as a great pop record, but never loses the unique and eclectic DNA that made Grimes such a weird and fun musician in the first place. Melodies move in unexpected directions, but the payoff is always something you can dance to. Album closer “Butterfly,” is an excellent example of this variety within the music, moving from a bubbly melody to a pounding chorus punctuated by screams and a multitude of layered synths.
Lyrically, the album tells Grimes’ story since her last album Oblivion (2012). She is moving away from home, having others try to define her career, and dealing with a history of drug abuse. Throughout, there is a common element of Grimes’ defiance towards all these factors. Of particular note, lyrically, is the weird and wonderful “World Princess Part II,” a callback to her second album, Halfaxa (2010), which speaks to her frustration with being seen as frail, and having ‘big men’ try to take creative control. “Venus Fly,” featuring Janelle Monáe, is a badass feminist anthem that challenges men who attempt to objectify women. Ultimately, Grimes wants to show that she is “too scary to be objectified,” and this album shows it.
Grimes’ three years away from the music industry were well spent. She has developed her sound past the more basic and unpolished work of her earlier albums without allowing her individual aesthetic to fall away in the process. The result is a complex and layered album as a whole, backed by excellent, uplifting, and powerful singles. “Flesh Without Blood” is easily one of the best tracks she has ever made, mixing guitar and synth with a punchy, whip sharp beat.
The result is a complex and layered album as a whole, with production that has a lot of stylistic flourishes that come out through repeated listens. Grimes has talked repeatedly about her frustration with male producers trying to push her to the sidelines, and this album serves as a middle finger to all of them, both in concept and through its excellent production. This is the Grimes album her fans were waiting for; she has kept what makes her fabulous and relatable despite her ascension to pop heaven.
“Flesh Without Blood”
“B-E-H-A-V-E aggressive/tell me I'm a monster looking so fresh-uh”
Pop written by Daenerys Targaryen in space.