Yes, ‘Art Angels’ is a more mainstream “pop” album than Grimes’ last album, the electronic squelchy ‘Visions’. But what does that even mean? After all, this is Grimes we’re talking about, the brainchild of Claire Boucher. This new album is just as experimental as the last. Did you really think she’d be tied to one genre? Or indeed, the concept of genre at all?
‘Art Angels’ is less focussed, but as a whole a more interesting album that takes in a huge spectrum of influences. Opener laughing and not being normal has a Baroque feel with its stately strings and Boucher’s almost choirboy falsetto vocals, introducing the album with a sense of quiet dignity before it all goes bonkers. There’s the West Coast jangling guitars of California; the punk screams of Scream; the pop rock of album highlight Flesh Without Blood; the folk feel of Belly of the Beat; the pulsing K-pop of Kill V. Maim; the ‘Ray of Light’ era Madonna influence of the title track; the dance vibes of Realiti; the video game bloops of World Princess part II. And more. ‘Art Angels’ is all of these things and none of them.
Really, Boucher has an ear for pop melody and that happy-sad thing that all good pop has, yet equally a complete punk disregard for style and genre. She doesn’t quite operate in a vacuum – after all, you can pick out her influences – but not once does she attempt to conform to expectations. She takes the familiar and twists it into something new and unique, yet retains a sense of melody and hook writing that’s not quite immediate, but definitely palatable to mainstream tastes. That may seem oxymoronic, but that’s Grimes. She doesn't always make sense (just look at the videos, or the cover art) but it's fun and enjoyable nonetheless.
At times, then, ‘Art Angels’ is exquisite. Flesh Without Blood is grade A pop full of infectious rhythms and a beat full of tiny details from hand claps to cartoon whip effects, whilst the lyrics and yearning melodies seemingly narrate a failing relationship (“if you don’t need me, just let me go”), even though she doesn’t “write about love anymore” according to Twitter. Pin absolutely nails happy-sad pop, its heavily processed beat juxtaposed with lyrics loaded with reminiscence (“falling off the edge with you, it was too good to be true”). Realiti is probably the closest to what we’re used to with Grimes, yet still sounds like nothing else. Butterfly later closes the album with a complete change of pace, all buoyant African rhythms and jangling guitars underpinned by a thumping beat.
It’s not a perfect album. SCREAM, for starters, is terrible. Venus Fly features Janelle Monáe, but is far from either artist’s best work. Life In The Vivid Dream is the only slow track, ending all too abruptly. And as a whole, ‘Art Angels’ is definitely a challenging album. But listen closely and it’s undeniably rewarding. Despite the occasional misfire, Grimes is a totally individual artist. And in this day and age, that is a rare and beautiful thing. That title couldn’t be more fitting.
* Flesh Without Blood
Listen: ‘Art Angels’ is out now.