We live in an age of manufactured pop stars. Expert producers, engineers, and mixers work together to create shimmering and admittedly infectious anthems. Yet an artist’s vision is often lost within the sea of personaities. What Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, has done with her latest release, Art Angels, is industry-defying.
Singlehandedly writing and producing each song, Grimes has created a monumental record, soaring in its complexity and production value, and consequently demonstrating the power of the individual in realizing a singular musical vision. While other musicians, such as Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, similarly control the entire creative process, it is Grimes’ emulation and mastery of pop production that sets her album apart. Still, reducing Art Angels to a “pop” record does not wholly encapsulate its range and eccentricity.
Art Angels is lush with foreign drum samples, sweet and sporadic guitars, and sudden bursts of synths, all of which provide a backdrop for Boucher’s spectacularly bizarre and contagious vocals. Many of Grimes’ tracks can initially appear elusive, too multifaceted and layered to fully grasp in one listen. Yet in time, their depth and complexity unfold; each song is overflowing with life, adorned with unexpected twists and turns of both songwriting and production. On Art Angels, Grimes has unmistakably taken influences from pop music and even embraces EDM techniques, allowing her transitions to swell and bloom in a similar fashion. Still, Grimes’ tracks are never tied to a formula, and Boucher showcases a wide variety of soundscapes and attitudes. She sings like a Broadway performer on “Easily”, chants like an anime character on “California”, and even flatly screeches on “Scream” in a beautiful eruption of aggression. The album can be alarming and overwhelming, but it maintains an irresistible pop sensibility that will make the listener want to break out in a sort of deranged, enraptured dance. On “REALiTi”, Boucher sings, “every morning there are mountains to climb”, revealing of her relentless dedication, and befitting for an artist who presents a precision and clarity that is only achieved through tireless production and mixing.
“Kill V Maim” best encapsulates Grimes’ remarkable range; in it, you’ll find captivating synths, playful feminist word play, belligerent declarations of war, cartoonish vocal injections, jarring transitions, well-crafted and unpredictable drums, an electric guitar emulating a huge synth bass, and melodies that will bounce around your head for days.
As music marches forward into an increasingly computerized world, Grimes’ fourth album proves that we exist at a rare moment where one artist can control the entire creative process, without sacrificing scope or sound. While it typically takes hordes of individuals to create a pop star, Claire Boucher has made one of herself, by herself. In the process, she has created an utterly astonishing record that stands as one of the best of 2015.