6 November 2015
efore reading my opinion on this album, I should probably get it out of the way and just say that I am a huge fan of Grimes’ work and so my opinions are probably going to be coloured by the fact that I’ve been waiting for this record a long time. So, bear in mind that other oddball pop stars are available when I say that this is not just an incredible Grimes album, but a contender for top ten albums of the year. In a year when albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Jamie xx’s In Colour, Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06 and Joanna Newsom’s Divers have all come out so close to one another, that’s a hell of a feat.
This is also by far the most accessible of Grimes’ albums, for better or for worse. On one hand, tracks like Flesh and Blood are a nice way in for new listeners, but this track in particular sounds a lot like a song cut from Taylor Swift’s 1989 being covered by Grimes rather than actually conforming to her own style. It’s particularly interesting that this admittedly catchy pop song is rubbing shoulders with tracks like ‘Scream’, in which Grimes recruits Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes to rap in heavy Mandarin over a late-90s alt-rock guitar while Grimes screams over the track like the lost fourth member of Death Grips. It’s just as blisteringly weird as it sounds, and if you consider that a downside then Grimes probably isn’t for you. This is a massive divergence from the earlier Grimes style, but still feels perfectly in keeping with the spirit of experimentation that characterises Grimes, if not the old sound.
That’s the main trouble with this album; it’s going to be compared with her earlier discography, and Grimes’ earlier work is a fair amount more cohesive than this album. But then, Visions was made in a single week while this album took three years; hardly a reasonable comparison. And Art Angels has a hell of a task on its shoulders: Boucher has said in earlier interviews that she is attempting to do half-and-half of the old sound and a more straight-laced pop to conquer the mainstream. And while the single release of ‘Flesh Without Blood’ filled me with dread (oh my God, I can understand her lyrics the first time around! This is a travesty!), this half-and-half attitude has led to easily the highest peaks of Grimes’ discography – ‘Kill V. Maim’ reconciles the earlier ethereal Visions sound with the clashing guitars of much of Art Angels perfectly. The case, then, isn’t necessarily a problem with the record itself, but the perception of it.
Just because it’s different, though, doesn’t mean it’s bad. It is one of the few pop albums which manages to transcend the Top 40 and becomes a listenable album in its own right. Grimes’ voice meshes perfectly with every self-produced beat and her efforts to expand into the pop sphere don’t necessarily clash with her more experimental ambitions; after all, this album features tracks written from the perspective of intergalactic vampire mobsters (not that you can tell) as well as Boucher’s pop-star persona Grimes that we already know and love from Visions. This isn’t a great album for purists, then, but if you take it for the fun, mildly experimental pop album that it is, then it is absolutely one to buy.