Grimes – Art Angels (4AD)
In 1975 Patti Smith opened her debut with the line: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine,” defiantly seeking to collapse her diaristic poetry into the transfigurative powers of rock n’ roll. The anarchic primitivism of Smith’s delivery, paired with the emotional ballast of her lyrics, created an angelic art hybrid that left its bite marks on the musical industry; by fusing the passions of Keith Richards and Arthur Rimbaud, Horses made Smith a progenitor for all the punks and riot grrrls in distress, who crave a different kind of buzz.
Claire Boucher has never been the one to shy away from collapsing her passions into the belly of the beat. Her breakthrough as Grimes, the colossal Visions, played around with pop music tropes, but did so with a sense of distance and curiosity, teasing out its musical nirvana with the power of innocence – even with its legs firmly planted in oblique dissonance and beguiling paranoia, the album bubbled over in a childlike graze that accentuated its beating human heart. Visions was the sound of a muted orgasm. Art Angels, on the other hand, blasts outward with intense pleasure.
Art Angels is a pleasure principle of cartoonish self-orchestration. Boucher dives head first onto the inner workings of pop music, in her quest to design her own excessive hybrid of the genre. The sound is blatantly shimmering – something akin to the sound of Taylor Swift’s laser-guided escapism beamed into Ray of Light-era Madonna, torn apart by ‘90s pop-punk, and then spliced together again by an overworked k-pop girl group. There is an undeniable plethora of identities present on Art Angels, but it would be unsympathetic to judge the bombast of Boucher’s multiplied perspectives by the sum of its references: This is existential music in the purest sense of the word, the artistic equivalent of the whooshing sound you get in the ears when having an adrenaline rush.
Relentless overindulgence is the key on Art Angels. “Everything I love becomes everything I do,” Boucher sings with stirring immediacy on the title song, a mantra for her polymorphous compression of musical existentialism. Her voice weaves in and out of character, every song teasing out a new identity, all coming to life through the power of her expressive articulation. ‘Kill V. Maim’ pours out its “BE! AGGRESSIVE!”-chant of misandry, with Boucher commanding the songs’ raging melodies to hit straight in the solar plexus. ‘California’, glimmering in all its country-meets-dancehall glory, is a gut-wrenching performance, exposing her discontent with public scrutiny: “The things they see in me, I cannot see myself / When you get bored of me, I’ll be back on the shelf,” she sings, letting the metaphor of the sunshine state swallow her whole, like the clickbait-gore of a derivative music press.
Whether you are high or low, pop sorcery is about finding a balance between the light and the heavy elements of existence. On Art Angels, Boucher’s most audacious work to date, the mind-addling performance and far-reaching musicianship proves to be a rallying cry for Grimes to be understood on her own terms. She has orchestrated a stylistically perverse soundscape – the brain-rattling fever dream of a Hieronymus Bosch-scape paired with the binaries of modern pop music – to atomise her frustrations about cultural boundaries. Infectious and danceable as it is, Art Angels stands as a riot against marginalisation, the sound of a subversive feminist dismantling typecasting, a defiance rave against music industry approbation. Like Patti Smith before her, Boucher has collapsed her passions into a pit of confidence, and blasted them out with maximum force, ensuring that these songs will have an impact far beyond the context of the internet-cycle. Nobody died for the sins of this art angel.