The pop perfection of Grimes’ ‘Art Angels’ is the sound of 2015

GRIMES last album Visions defined a decade, GREER CLEMENS argues that it’s followup Art Angels defines 2015. 

It’s almost impossible to comprehend how Grimes, aka Claire Boucher, consumes and creates as much as she does: in two consecutive posts on her beautifully curated Tumblr, Boucher cites Lana Del Rey and the Dixie Chicks as two of her all-time favourite artists, then notes how influential Bollywood filmmaker and choreographer Farah Khan has been on her work as a director. She compulsively cites influences, in a way that might just seem like appreciative name-checking if the links weren’t so tangibly traceable on Art Angels, her 14-track electro-pop epic released today.

Her love for Dolly Parton is there in the ‘Flesh Without Blood’ video’s pink cowgirl hat, as well the handclaps and electro-hoedown of ‘California’ and ‘Life In The Vivid Dream’s tender acoustic fingerpicking. The lyrics of ‘Flesh Without Blood’ have moments of succinct, effective, heartbreaking Taylor Swiftian turn-of-phrase (“Remember when we used to say/“I love you” almost every day?”), whose Red album from 2013 was a favourite for Boucher. While her nuanced vocal tone and twisted mazes of notes recalls some of Joanna Newsom’s best moments. This knack for synthesis (of ideas, as well as her talent with actual synthesisers), is one of Boucher’s most recognisable skills: her sound and aesthetic are completely, undeniably unique, yet so recognisably a composite of her eclectic taste.

Her sound and aesthetic are completely, undeniably unique

This seemingly constant enthusiasm for consuming music and art seems matched only by an equally voracious need to create. Boucher generates nearly all the Grimes visual content: directing the videos for ‘Flesh Without Blood/Life In The Vivid Dream’ and ‘REALiTi’, painting the album cover and accompanying artwork for each song on the record, and keeping her aforementioned Tumblr in order, a regularly-updated mood-board that feels like the swiftest avenue into Boucher’s psyche.

She talks regularly about the thousand songs that are left behind, from scrapped projects to demos that never made it through. The demo version of ‘REALiTi’ released earlier this year had fans frothing at the mouth at the prospect that the imminent album release might reach those heady, dreamy heights. But the reworked version on Art Angels is more representative of the sound of the record as a whole, but lacks some of the charm of the version we heard in March. There’s no doubt Boucher is a perfectionist of the highest order: in a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly she confessed that this album is the first thing she’s created that doesn’t make her “cringe” when listening back.

There’s something that feels tangibly joyful on Art Angels that we didn’t hear on Visions. The lyrics on this record can be pitch dark, don’t get the wrong impression, but there’s an ecstasy in a project that is so seemingly on par with the artist’s aspirations. That we have the chance to hear ‘Scream’, a track produced by Boucher that features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes in a turn that will surely see her become some kind of household name, alongside the relaxed R&B of ‘Easily’, the glittering album closer ‘Butterfly’, the verses from Janelle Monáe on the urgent ‘Venus Fly’, or the album’s title track, which has elements of ‘Vogue’-era Madonna.

While Art Angels definitely leans further toward pop than Visions did, this might say more about the state of pop in 2015 than it does about the record. These songs wouldn’t sound out of place next to Justin Bieber’s Diplo- and Skrillex-produced emotional banger ‘Where R Ü Now?’, or Lorde and Disclosure’s slinky, bubbling ‘Magnets’. There’s no doubt we’ve broadened the definition of pop, and it feels as though Boucher has done the same: opened up her definition, challenging and toying with what it means to make a Grimes record.

8/10 Stars

Grimes’ Art Angels is out digitally today via 4AD / Remote Control Records. The physical release will drop on Friday, December 11. She’ll be touring Australia in January headlining the Laneway festival lineup and playing sold-out sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne.

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