Album Of The Day: Grimes - 'Art Angels'

Written By Sam Murphy on 11/09/2015


Two weeks ago nobody had any idea what to expect from a Grimes album or if it was even coming. Since her 2012 breakthrough Visions, she’s given us a Rihanna reject in the pop-trap banger Go and followed it up with an unfinished demo REALiTi. These both came with a flurry of press shots that painted her as a demon cowboy while simultaneously appearing in magazines dressed in designer clothing. None of what Grimes has done in the last three years has been coherent and after new emerged that she’d binned a whole album it seemed her guess of what this album was going to sound like was a good as ours.

As it turns out, Art Angels is incoherent. It pairs pop with folk-tinges, heavy metal with Taiwanese rap and hip-hop with electronica all in the space of 12 songs. It’s a mess. But a glorious one. One that’s a product of an artist in 2015 who’s inspired by a multitude of different things all of which are easily accessible at the click of a button. She’s dabbled in fashion, electronica, graphics and design, taking every opportunity that fame has thrown at her and Art Angels reflects her multi-faceted world. The thing that makes this wildly erratic album work, however, is that its maker is a fascinating character and you truly believe that she loves every inch of this record.

Coming off the back of a record that heralded what is regarded by many to be one of the best songs of the decade was never going to be easy. When Go was released she was originally criticised for going too pop which is another phrase for “selling out” but Boucher has seemingly taken no notice of that because Art Angels is her most pop sounding album to date. But she’s not going to be taking over commercial radio anytime soon. It’s pop in the way that it’s bolder and more confident with a previously unheard clarity to the words she sings and that's about where that genre-categorisation ends.

“I don’t see the light I saw in you before,” she sings on lead-single Flesh Without Blood giving us a clear, concise and personal statement, the likes of which we never would’ve got on Visions. The track further flirts with pop melodies ushering us close to a huge chorus that never quite comes. Instead, we get a heartbreakingly beautiful bridge with Boucher’s voice sounding better than ever.

Sketch: Bianca Bosso | the interns

Sketches: Bianca Bosso | the interns

Boucher has improved as a vocalist and maybe that’s why she’s found the space in her songs to let her voice shine through. On the album’s first full song California she sings “this music makes me cry, it sounds just like my soul.” It’s a simple, melancholic statement that wouldn’t be out of place on Adele record but she delivers it over a country-inspired jangle with an airy, angelic vocal. It’s a batshit crazy melting pot of sonic ideas but it somehow works, hitting right at the heart.

“When you leave I feel so defeated,” she trills on Easily before singing, “easily, I’m the best damn thing you ever saw.” It’s got a sassy confidence to it but is featured on a track that merges together a piano ballad with an other-worldly hip-hop track. Again, it shouldn’t work but it does because its maker is so weird. She’s not quirky a Zooey Deschanel type way - she’s genuinely weird but at the same time acutely in touch with human emotion in the internet age.

There’s also a toughness to this record that we haven’t really seen from Boucher before. On Kill V. Maim she screams over thundering drums as if she’s soundtracking Kill Bill while on Scream, featuring Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, she gives us a James Bond-esque urgency with stealthy guitars. She teams up with Janelle Monae on Venus Fly for what feels like a weirder companion to Monáe’s feminist anthem Q.U.E.E.N. Boucher and Monáe are both vocal and eloquent feminist voices that skew to the left in terms of their artistic visions so it makes complete sense that they come together to deliver the girl power anthem of the record.

Those tougher moments are expertly balanced by moments of complete fragility like Life In The Vivid Dream where Boucher sounds the rawest she ever has. It’s a poignant reminder that while she can twist and contort her voice to sound alien-like, it can also sound completely human. She brings that same texture to Belly Of The Beast where she ponders, “I could leave the world today.”

Boucher has always operated between earth and space but a rework of REALiTi is proof that she’s more down to earth than ever on this record. It may be disappointing for those who enjoyed the acid-spurred visions of her last record but her statements as an artist are so much more powerful when she operates in this realm.

“When I get up this is what I see, welcome to reality,” she sings. That statement is important when considering how to devour Art Angels. It’s weird and demonic and beautiful and strange but it’s Grimes’ reality and it’s 100 percent believable in that. There will be songs you’ll connect to and there’ll be others you’ll appreciate from afar but it’s hard to deny that Art Angels isn’t the product of a musical genius. There’s not one artist on earth right now who could combine this many ideas and still remain accessible. It’s like nothing else that’s been released this year - an oddball masterpiece.