Grimes is back, not that’s she’s been away really, but she certainly split some opinions when she released Go in 2014. With Art Angels she has turned away from the populist pop-trap fad and delivered 14 tracks of addictive leftfield pop. Featuring even more instrumentation played by herself as well as collaborations with Janelle Monáe and Aristophanes.
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Coming after a good two years of career turmoil -- spanning the critical revelations of ‘Visions’, the egregious and unfair headlines that ensued and a follow-up album sent straight to the recycling bin -- Grimes has come out with ‘Art Angels’, a limitless pop record shaking off the weight of the world and spitting in its gruesome face. Claire Boucher spent the last couple of years fighting her corner for recognition as a producer and musician in her own right, but this record merely assumes total control over a shitty industry -- the best way to shut up assholes is to make them feel fucking uncomfortable, and who knew really catchy music could do that?
To me, Boucher’s music has always sounded incredibly autonomous, placing her voice (whether modulated and distanced on ‘Visions’ or pushed to the fore on this slickly produced follow-up) around meticulous synth-pop productions and laboured-over tricks (check the steel drum fill that hits with perfect precision on “Venus Fly”). If it wasn’t already clear that Grimes was her project and hers only, then ‘Art Angels’ should be the final stamp, a viscous and often ugly treatise on pop music that disses the people involved while celebrating the inanity. On “California”, a skewed song whose split-down-the-middle chorus sounds like demonic Carly Rae Jepsen, she seems to engage directly with her lover-haters: “You only like me when you think I’m looking sad / I didn’t think you’d end up treating me so bad”. Its biggest shock is how different it sounds, though: brazen electric guitar, a clear pop vocal and laser beam synths? All routine pop tricks, here as shocking as any transgressive noise shit you’ll have heard this year.
‘Art Angels’ trades in ugliness and euphoria, mixing the best hooks with sinister counterparts, as if presenting the musical equivalent of both eating a Cadbury’s chocolate fudge and then learning what goes into it. “Kill Vs. Maim”, the year’s catchiest song bar none, floats along on a K-pop synth line, separating verse and chorus with unholy growls and feral screams before developing a phenomenal hook that dives further and further into different melodic ideas, switching them up with zero fucking care in the world. “Realiti”, a song Boucher has been developing for a while, is so assured of its own catchiness that it seems to make everything just a little bit harder to vibe with, offering horn-like synths that make the momentum stutter before the song’s true colours shine through. “Venus Fly”, a collab with Janelle Monae, suddenly puts the album underwater, subduing its aggression to make it hit harder. Monae and Boucher trade on -- and then come together for -- chants of “Why you lookin’ at me?!”, leading their listener with a ferocious dancefloor beat back to the surface. It’s confounding and confrontational, and it carries you with it.
‘Visions’ was a great record, mixing pop tenacity with a watery ambience that seemed decidedly of its era and scene (back when friends like Baths and d’Eon were making purdy glitch pop); it’s clear now, though, that ‘Art Angels’ is Grimes’ opus. Masquerading as bona fide pop music, this record actually makes the skin crawl with how strange, how powerful, and how good it is.
9/10 Max Roe Customer review, 1st March 2016
What I’ve always loved about Grimes’ music is its ability to take it’s listener to another realm; throughout her first three LPs she has always used her arsenal of etheral synths and mystical soundscapes to whisk us away to sacred fairy-tail land filled with Dream Fortresses and ancient monsters. It’s an ability she again masterfully employs again on her fourth effort, “Art Angels”, although this time she chooses to take us to a different setting, somewhere more futuristic, hyperactive and metropolitan.
Throughout the record she uses a fully formed set of pop sensibilities (the seeds for which were sewn with last years single “Go”) to create a series of energetic and euphoric bangers such as “Kill V Maim” and “Flesh Without Blood”, which, although still decidedly offbeat and chaotic, are not hard to imagine within a Top 40 playlist. Of course, this is by no means a bad thing. "Kill V Maim" is not only perhaps the best song she's ever done but one of the best pop songs of the past five years with it's creaming choruses and ridiculously catchy J-pop inspired melodies. When she invites her friends along to collaborate she manages to utilize their best qualities whilst adding her own twist. “SCREAM” swaps vicious tongued rapper Aristophanes’ usual dark and moody productions for a jarring, western, almost Tarentino-esque backing track. Janelle Monet collaboration “Venus Fly” is a standout with its booming bass and singsong choruses recalling Santigold or MIA's best.
The only time She really drops the ball is on "Belly of the Beat" which, although pleasent on the ears, sounds decidedly middle of the road in the middle of such a colorful, eclectic album. And, unfortunately, we have to contend with the sheer butchering of fan favorite demo “Realiti” which swaps the original version’s keen use of space and subtlety for messy overproduction and over-baring drum beats, but this one's not on the vinyl version so we'll let her off.
Art Angels is an album that annihilates your senses, fries your neurons and electrocutes your ear drums. It might not have the same "play it anywhere, any time" quality which "Visions" had but it's certainly her bravest and possibly her best album to date.
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