Pop music is political again. If it’s not that X Factor alumni Little Mix tweeted against the bombing of Syria, it’s that one of the most critically acclaimed records of the year is about climate change. Art Angels is Canadian Claire Boucher’s fourth studio album, and certainly her most ambitious to date.
On this, her first self-produced album, vocals are layered on top of each other, creating an otherworldly electropop. Sounds of the rainforest and the natural world are heard over energetic beats.
Grimes isn’t just a stage name for Claire Boucher but an alterego. She has claimed there are several characters within the album. I couldn’t hear them, but maybe I wasn’t listening hard enough.
Partially about climate change, Art Angels is an aggressive pop record, a riposte to those who thought Grimes was the epitome of the 21st century pop star — discovered on the internet and driven to illness by an intensive recording and touring schedule.
Art Angels clearly comes out of a deeply melancholic time for Grimes, as she sings of “commodifying all the pain”. In “Butterfly” Grimes sings, “I’ll never be your dream girl, living in the real world.” She has previously spoken about sexism within the music industry and the expectations of her to behave, look and sound suitably feminine.
For a perfect pop song look no further than “Realiti” where Grimes shows her depth not only as a vocalist but also as a producer. “Scream” is an album highlight as Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes joins Grimes on vocals. The result is a punchy and confusing four minutes that is not unlike experimental South African group Die Antwoord.
The potential doom of climate change is used as a metaphor as “when the ocean rises up above the ground, maybe I’ll drown”.
Grimes’s unique vocal style is perhaps what she is most famous for, and this provides the anchor on which all the other beats hinge. I find her high pitched voice can irritate after a while though, and the pace of the album significantly drops in the second half.
Grimes’s brand of pop can be undeniably weird, and at times an overwhelming collection of samples and clashing beats. Art Angels is an ethereal pop record from an artist very much trying to figure out her vision.
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A pick of the highlights