THERE’S been a considerable amount of hype surrounding Grimes’ fourth studio album. Starting off in the Canadian underground electronic scene, Claire Boucher has seen her style develop through Geidi Primes and Halfaxa to 2012’s breakthrough album Visions. This album saw Grimes’ style manifest into some pretty dark, mesmerising, indie numbers such as ‘Genesis’, ‘Oblivion’ and ‘Circumambient’. In seeming to break this trend, Grimes scrapped almost an entire follow-up album after claiming her “life was getting a lot better“.
Art Angels then, is Boucher’s reaction to this. There’s hardly a song on this album that comes close to the ambient abyss of ‘Nightmusic’ or ‘Be A Body’. Just reading the YouTube comments for the first single ‘Flesh, Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream’ will show the confused, irritated, but generally accepting attitude of Grimes’ existing fans. It’s true though that Art Angels is Boucher’s first meaningful step into a more pop worthy sound. ‘Flesh, Without Blood’ is the obvious example, with a sound that could have come straight from an episode of Girls, or a Charli XCX album. ‘Belly of the Beat’ is another; a song that falls a tad short of the expectations put upon the artist. With a chirpy acoustic guitar rhythm, it plays far too safe for Grimes.
Those who reacted angrily to her recent single ‘Go!’ may, once again, claim that Grimes’ is ‘pandering to the radio’. But thankfully we have songs like ‘SCREAM’, which features Taiwanese rapped Aristophanes. It’s the ‘heaviest’ song on the album and a throws a bit of a curveball amidst the more poppier tracks. It’s also bloody brilliant. Another one of the better songs on the album features another collaboration, this time with American soul singer Janelle Monáe. It’s an unlikely pairing, but the Electric Lady really brings something to another pumping dance track from Boucher, even if that is just some sassy vocals.
In another attempt to differ her sound, Boucher brings some new instrumentation to Art Angels. Drums and guitar feature prominently on several tracks on this album, notably on the opening couple of tracks. Unfortunately this doesn’t always work in her favour; the first track ‘laughing and not being normal’ is a mess, and doesn’t particularly lend much to the album. Following this, ‘California’ a little better, but still feels a little clunky, with a chorus that isn’t as catchy as it should be. The vocals don’t quite flow as easily and smoothly as some of the other tracks on this album, with Boucher rather awkwardly stretching the title name over a few long beats. The short interlude of ‘Life in the Vivid Dream’ is better, but really only echoes the shorter skits you’d find in Visions.
The first five tracks are a little mixed, with ‘Flesh Without Blood’ and ‘SCREAM’ being the only real standout tracks. However, I’m pleased to say that after that, things really take off. ‘Kill V. Maim’ is an fantastic track, with a catchy synth based lead and some decent beats and Grimes exhibiting some quirky vocals. The chorus is killer with some trademark, distorted Grimes lyrics that echoes back to her earlier work. ‘Artangels’ and ‘Easily’ both throw the listener off with left field introductions before indulging in some particularly pop based goodness. But even with this clearer pop influence, Grimes still manages to give these tracks a dance and electronic vibe that takes what she did on her previous releases and twists and alters it.
It won’t come as a surprise that previously released ‘Realiti’ is just as good as before. While track has been slightly reworked to fit into the sound of Art Angels, the basis is still the same, and sounds just as good as on the first listen. It’s definitely a highlight of the album. Closer ‘Butterfly’ is an unusual one; the sound is very melancholy yet somehow celebratory, with a beat that doesn’t quite fit Grimes’ traditional sound, or even the sound of this album.
So what with her new sound, does this mean that Grimes has ‘sold out’? Mostly no. Art Angels is easily Grimes’ most accessible album, but it doesn’t stretch to the mainstream with in your face choruses or a typically generic sound. Even the pop songs on this album have been ‘Grimes-ified’, even if they don’t necessarily work. But even if Grimes has strayed from that indie bedroom goddess portrayal we thrust upon on her, why does it matter? There are some killer songs on Art Angels; ‘Realiti’, ‘Kill V. Maim’ and ‘SCREAM’ to name a few, and Grimes is experimenting with her sound, even if it’s not necessarily groundbreaking.
On the whole, I did enjoy Art Angels. Some tracks may be a tad clunky and flawed, but Boucher has given us a collection of pumping, dance worthy tracks that are pretty damn exciting to listen to. And in terms of most pop music, this absolutely destroys it [Ed’s Note: I listened to Ellie Goulding’s new one after this and died of boredom]. It may fall just short of the hype, but it’s also a worthy contribution to this year’s discography.
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