In 2009, art-pop aficionado Claire Boucher sang “I will take your breath away” on her debut full length Geidi Primes. Six years later, she has delivered that promise with a sucker-punch in Art Angels, an album that waltzes effortlessly from iron-clad hooks to animalistic growls and whispers, dancing in and out of pop sensibility in a manner that puts her peers to shame.
Under the name “Grimes”, Boucher has soared through influences ranging from dream-pop to witch house with an eclectic approach that only legends like Björk have stretched to in the past. Art Angels brazenly displays a fleshed-out and full bodied continuation of this trend, a logical follow-up to her work in 2012’s Visions. Boucher seems infinitely more powerful and confident in herself on this record – her voice reaches incredible highs, layered over and over itself to create soundscapes that really show off her skill as a producer as well as a musician. Recent Godfather II-inspired single ‘Kill V. Maim’ is a fantastic example of this, with an aggressive bass riff laying down foundations for Grimes to gush “I’m only a man, do what I can” before lurching into a yelp-cum-scream for the song’s earworm chorus.
Although traces of the sound that Art Angels is built from were hinted at in Visions, Art Angels pushes Grimes’ past boundaries out to a whole new ballpark. The darker themes of tracks like ‘Oblivion’ are still there, but are painted a whole new shade of black in standout track ‘Scream’ which features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. Aristophanes’ saccharine lyrical flow is not only juxtaposed against eerie guttural screams and groans, but upon translation reveals darker sexual and violent themes which were unexplored in Boucher’s previous releases. The album’s other guest feature of Janelle Monáe on ‘Venus Fly’ seems like an obvious choice given the pair’s shared affinity for visual art, and it’s one that strongly benefits the track; Monáe’s voice is echoed and filtered to great effect against bouncing synths and vicious drums.
Some have criticised Art Angels as being overtly pop, lacking in the “weirdness” Boucher previously delved into enthusiastically. And sure, the album is littered with melodies that could happily be found in top 40 hits – but the finished product is still clearly Grimes. Although she’s not referencing Dune or Final Fantasy in track titles anymore, K-pop and 80s influences are ever-present throughout the 50 minutes, giving the release “weird” flesh and blood whilst easing into her new pop outfit. Art Angels has an instant attractiveness; in razor sharp dance-fuelled track ‘Pin’, Boucher sings “I was only looking for a human to reciprocate”, and her audience should indeed reciprocate the same love and craftsmanship put into the album.
All in all, Art Angels is a stellar album and artistic achievement. Whereas Visions was produced in a 3-week frenzy, Art Angels was curated over a year of sober care to detail, and the patience and time put in really shows. With this album, Grimes beckons you to the dancefloor, and proceeds to destroy it.By Jowan Mead