Post-Internet. It sounds like the latest trend in a culture that likes to add post- to everything: post-race, post-hipster, post-postmodernism. So, when Claire Boucher, the Montrealer known as Grimes, describes her new album Visions as “post-Internet” in an interview, it’s natural that we’re inclined to laugh. But one listen reveals that post-Internet is perhaps the best way to describe Visions—that is, if we understand it not as music after the Internet, but as music in a world unavoidably enmeshed with the Internet. Though Visions is riddled with musical allusions to times far gone, it’s impossible to imagine the album existing in any other era than our current ADD one, where everything from k-pop to goth rock is just a YouTube click away.
What kind of music exactly does Grimes make? Despite a dazzling array of influences, Grimes’ music feels cohesive—she somehow takes anything and everything and brings it together in an experimental electronic/pop sound. Yet, despite pop hooks that give Lady Gaga a run for her money, Grimes is anything but straightforward. Its raw production works to undercut potential top 40 hits, creating a sound that shows us both the beauty and ugliness of this world.
Boucher’s hard, elfin vocals form waves of sound that only occasionally coalesce into a comprehensible lyric. When she is understandable, her lyrics hardly mean what they are actually saying. On “Infinite Love Without Fulfillment,” Boucher sings “I will wait for you / When you want me to” on a loop, a verse which could easily have come from the latest Taylor Swift song. But in Grimes’ hands, this love song is not jubilant: The looped lyric is overcome by bass synths, and the song slowly devolves into nothingness. It is a song that, like all of Grimes’ music, celebrates the catchy beauty of a pop melody, while critiquing its idealism.
As a result, Visions is a dark record, and rather lonely. Standout “Oblivion” is about Grimes watching someone from afar on a dark night, and the fragile vocals here add to the sense that the song could fall apart at any moment. Similarly, “Nightmusic” adds a sort of demonic vocal loop to its pulsating beats to create the saddest nightclub scene in existence.
But make no mistake: everything on Visions is a total jam. As you listen to Visions, there’s nothing you want to do but get up, start dancing, and forget everything. The album at once achieves a dance music immediacy while capturing alienation and ennui in the modern world. “Be a Body” has an arresting, rave-party feel—it begs you to lose yourself—and yet it somehow maintains a ghostly otherness. It’s a gorgeous song that perfectly straddles the line between beauty and sadness that is apparent in all of Grimes’ music.
One might be tempted to reduce Visions’ songs to its disparate elements (“Genesis” is dance meets classical Chinese meets the late-80s soft rock side of Fleetwood Mac, “Vowels = Time and Space” finds disco synths colliding with ’90s Mariah Carey). While fun, and while it would make for a good YouTube tour, this would be missing the point. Visions is not a nostalgic pastiche, but an active engagement with how we understand the world in the information age. With this kind of self-awareness and restraint, Visions raises an interesting question: Can there be anything truly “new” in music anymore? Or will future musicians just continue to collage disparate musical styles? And is that a bad thing?
So, yes—Grimes is a “post-Internet” musician. Like the term or not, she’s making music for a world where time and space have collapsed and everything is interconnected. Grimes takes from everywhere to create a dark, dreamy soundscape that you can get absolutely lost in. And yet, she never loses herself to her influences—this isn’t an album about memory or allusions. Unlike other contemporary musicians who similarly explore music styles from times far gone (chillwavers, for one), Grimes never feels tied to the past, or to a specific point in time. It’s a characteristic that bestows upon her music an unending sense of wonder and magic. The opening synths of “Genesis,” treated with just the slightest touch of reverb, never fail to make me shudder upon hearing them, even after some 50 listens.
I don’t want to say Grimes is unlike anything we’ve ever heard before, because it’s basically everything we’ve ever heard before. Visions is in many ways an affront to a culture that values up-to-the-second “newness” and so-called “uniqueness.” Grimes is very much tied to the Internet, which has erased any sense of music history and replaced it with a meandering sea of free-association connections between songs. Ultimately, with Visions, Grimes creates something of a dream world, taking the listener on a dazzling, dizzying journey that you won’t ever want to end. Grimes’ is a strange beauty, at once uplifting and lonely. It’s experimental, it’s pop, but most of all, it’s masterful: Visions is an incredible reflection of our world, a dreamy mirror that captures modern ennui while celebrating its beauty.