Grimes is the performance name for Claire Boucher, and she creates an extraordinary blend of twisted pop music. Boucher is a very accomplished artist – she writes, performs, and produces all of the music on her albums. She directs videos. She creates the artwork for her albums. She is not an amalgam of different writers, producers and musicians working to create the perfect pop album – she executes everything on her own. She is truly an exceptional talent. Boucher was born and raised in Vancouver. When she was younger she studied ballet for 11 years, but she ended up attending college in Montreal to study neuroscience at McGill University. While she was at McGill, she had a “realization” about how music was recorded and then experimenting with music went on to dominate her attention from that point on. In fact, it took up so much of her time that she was eventually expelled from the university because she was never attending classes. The experimental music scene that Boucher was part of in Montreal eventually spawned a record label – Arbutus Records. She released her first two albums on this label before signing with 4AD in late 2011. She recorded her first album for 4AD during a self-described three week binge where she shut everything else out, blacked out her windows and only focused on creating music. This recording binge resulted in “Visions”, which was released early in 2012 and received a lot of critical acclaim. The album showed up on many best of lists that year. The single “Oblivion” was named the best single so far in the 21st century in a Pitchfork article. The album also won several different major awards in Canada. Since then, Grimes signed to Jay Z’s management company Roc Nation. She released a few more singles and was working on an album in 2014 which she eventually scrapped, stating that it was too depressing and she didn’t want to tour for it – but she stated she may release it at some point in the future. She then set out to work on her new release “Art Angels”, which was just released digitally last Friday and will have a physical release date in December.
I’m not familiar with Grimes’ past work, I may have listened to some of “Trials” at some point but it didn’t resonate with me since I can’t recall what it sounded like (I will definitely go back and check it out now). I will say that “Art Angels” blew me away. It has dominated most of my listening time this past week. Normally I jot down 2-3 songs that stand out on an album that I can feature in a write-up. I was being “selective” and ended up having 8 different songs written down from “Art Angels”. I’m sure that’s a record for any album. Boucher is a pop monster mastermind on “Art Angels”. I am in awe that she created this album entirely on her own. She has two guest vocalists on two tracks – Janelle Monae (on “Venus Fly) and Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes (who sings/raps in Mandarin on the track “Scream”). Boucher plays every instrument heard on “Art Angels” which in addition to all of the electronic sounds, includes guitar, piano, violin, drums, ukulele, etc. She does an incredible job mastering and producing the music on her album. The pop hooks are devastating, yet she has an abundance of quirkiness in her sounds, production and vocals. Her vocals are all over the map, and she also does a lot of layering and looping to create some very interesting effects. Plus her album artwork is cool, bizarre and unique. Grimes is a creative monster, truly one of the most talented artists working today. I’m sharing three tracks below, which show different facets of her music, but you need to really check out the entire album.
“California” – This is an example of medium paced track, and it’s the first legitimate track on the album after the interlude opener “Laughing and Not Being Normal”. Grimes layers an interesting beat over a repeating guitar riff for the first part of this track. The beat has a kind of cut-off sound, which makes it sound a bit louder and abrupt. She also laces in a few electro/steampunk noises into the mix as well (a touch she uses often). Her voice comes then comes in, and matches the mood of the music perfectly. The music continues to build in density, as some synth cords are added and the vocals grow in depth. Grimes also continues to add in more electronic sounds that are just discernible beneath the mix. These flit in and out as she sees fit. She’s very crafty during the choruses when she sings “California” and manages to turn it into a ten syllable word around the beats. At the end of the song, the music start to sound like it’s sinking underwater, which is a nice production touch she uses a few times throughout the album. Even though the song is over 3 minutes long, it ends well before it wears out its welcome.
“Kill v. Maim” – This track is an example of one of the highest energy tracks (they all have a lot of energy). The track starts off normal enough for the first 30 seconds. But then the beat starts growing in intensity during the first verse, her vocals begin to push the limit and then the chorus grows and explodes into a throbbing, cheerleader-esque shout-out. She manipulates her vocals to such a high pitch, it’s mouse-like. Good workout song!
“Easily” – This tracks slows things down to the most mellow that Grimes gets, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of it at all since it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. A stuttered piano kicks off the track (along with other assorted noises) before Grimes comes in with her most vulnerable singing on the album. A soft beat kicks in, and then it gets more bombastic as the chorus unfolds. The song grows in sound as it progresses, with more instrumental touches layered in. Then in the latter half of the track she introduces a “squeaky” sounding beat that’s really unique. Grimes really masters every element of this song, even bringing in some violin at the end to close it out which is unexpected yet very fitting. I’m guessing Taylor Swift or Katy Perry would kill for a song like this on their next albums.