Monday, November 9, 2015

Grimes - Art Angels Review

Claire Boucher has a way of attracting the spotlight, even in the three year intermediate period between her note-worthy Visions and its successor. During that time she released ‘Go,’ a track that left fans of her eclectic Pop with sour-coated lips due to its strong departure from what made her unique. The backlash presumably put a dent in Grimes’ plans as she scrapped a near-completed album entirely, resorting to the drawing board in an attempt to please her inner-Pop sensibilities and her fans lust for oddball ElectroPop. What’s resulted is Art Angels, an album that begs for the limelight whilst retaining the quirky facade Grimes puts on. The process of creation surrounding her previous two releases are well-noted. On Visions she trapped herself in a room, dark, sleep-deprived, and drug-enduced for nine days. Here though, she made a commitment to finding creativity in sobriety, and the difference, as seemingly intended, is night and day. Her Anime-ridden covers showcase the distinction brilliantly, the former laced in dark hues and skulls while the latter saturates the scene with vivid colors and drawings. Unfortunately her scene-shift has led to less original music, a focus on catchy songs that sometimes don’t land, and an unnatural connection to bizarro moments that felt reasonably appropriate to Visions.

It’s funny in that what makes Art Angels odd, peculiar, and strange is its music, but not the dazzling assortment of erratic fluctuations present, rather the streamlined sound throughout. Since they both aesthetically and musically lay the foundation for the ensuing collection, the openers to each album strikes a rather succinct picture on what’s to come. Visions, through ‘Infinite Love Without Fulfillment,’ bounces on a loosely configured two-step that weaves between layered synths while 'Laughing And Not Being Normal' opens with a cathartic string arrangement with organic instrumentation abound like a warped Disney fairytale. The only semblance of similarity comes with Grimes herself and that piercing falsetto. Art Angels' true colors show abruptly though with 'California,' the most Pop-centric tune Boucher has made up to that point, despite being ousted numerous times further in the album. It's a light-hearted romp that stricken's dance floors with square dancing, with acoustic guitars and crunchy synths all in line with hand-claps and foot-stomps. This sound, while more developed and therefore less focused, appears on lead single 'Flesh Without Blood' too, effectively showing off Boucher's willingness to expand ground past the Ethereal Wave origins her previous music cultivated, subduing intrigue for a more mainstream approach.

This leaves Grimes between a rock and a hard place. Unable to escape her highly-stylized aesthetic despite desperately wanting to reach crowds far and wide. It leads to some awkward moments of confusion, where the line between maintaining credence and resorting to Katy Perry-style Pop is blurred. For listeners who can appreciate the Bubblegum Pop of the 90’s, or the sugar-coated K-Pop across the waters, Art Angels is a near flawless entity. Tracks like ‘Artangels,’ ‘World Princess, Pt.II’ and ‘Butterfly’ take something instantly likable and worship it, with Grimes naively prancing around jumping chords like a Spice Girls remake. At its best it’s rousing and delightful, at its worse it’s mundane and irrevocably forgettable, like on ‘Belly Of The Beat’ or ‘Pin.’ It may be an odd comparison at first sight but many of these songs bear resemblance to Royksopp’s turn to ElectroPop on Junior, both making bright, tightly-wound tunes that are easily digestible. Grimes fairs better than other associated SynthPop artists though in that she has doable range, never fixating on a single sound. And while this album may be more streamlined, it is far from basic, stretching the parameters of Pop as far as they can go.

Unfortunately for fans of Grimes the lyrics, as would be appropriate on a release of this caliber, have taken a backseat, content with relational quandaries, sun-drenched fantasies and self-boasting proses. Gone are the days of megalithic personal encounters like ‘Oblivion’ or introspective thought-pieces like 'Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U).’ While the change does result in many flat-lining moments, it does seem appropriate given its conceptual sonic surroundings. There are, as per usual Grimes fluff, corkscrews thrown in that risk everything. The clear examples of this are ‘SCREAM,’ ‘Kill V. Maim’ and ‘Venus Fly,’ with only one of those paying off. From the perspective of “Al Pacino in The Godfather Pt.2, except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space,” the worst part of ‘Kill V. Maim’ isn’t even the context, it’s the style Grimes forces, that of a glorified weeaboo piercing through the sound spectrum like a Anime child having a tantrum. Then there’s ‘SCREAM’ which Aristophanes does an adequate job of rapping over, like a hungry Nicki Minaj, but still feels out of place given its surrounding songs. But with ‘Venus Fly,’ not representative of Janelle MonĂ¡e or Grimes in the slightest, it thrives off its overwrought grandeur. In an alternate universe that’s more deprived and deranged this would be our '7/11.'

If there’s one thing that can’t be denied with Art Angels, even after the debacle that was ‘Go,’ it’s that Grimes is fearless when it comes to accepting sonic palates. What made Visions worthwhile was its dark-sided antithesis to modern SynthPop mundanity, one that if Boucher were to recreate it she’d fall into the same pit. So while Art Angels isn’t as intriguing, visionary, or creative, it is different, and that’s something substantial enough for Grimes to maintain relevance. This isn’t your prototypical Top 40 appeal here, but with the growing underbelly of Tumblr-led fans blurring the line between the real world and the Internet, there’s nothing stopping tracks like ‘Flesh Without Blood’ or ‘Realti’ from reaching said plateau. But for now Art Angels will reside in a complicating place, one where formally rejected and neglected Teen Pop of the 90’s is given a nostalgic vision that takes its credence as manufactured Pop connoisseurs seriously, critically admiring it for its fantastical edge. But, as is the case with those releases, the risks are 50/50. Throw in a heaping of Grimes and her off-kilter ways and you finish off with an album that aspires for more than it achieves despite some mouthwatering appetizers scattered throughout.

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