Grimes: Visions

Photo: Tommy Chase Lucas

She may have the name of a hobo and the look of a streetpunk, but Grimes sounds like a dream.



Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2012-02-21
UK Release Date: 2012-02-20

Grimes' Visions is an absolute blast. Easy to admire, easy to love. But Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom if it isn't tough to describe. Coaxing these 13 lucky strikes into a literary sandwich is like trying to photograph a sleeping ghost, stroke the northern lights or bag a will o' the wisp with a fishing net. It's somewhat tricky. It's electronic and yes, très "dream pop", but double-dipped with flavours of world and classical music. It's melodic enough to whistle in the shower, yet way too freaky for Village fêtes. It's experimental and free to roam, yet all the pieces click. It's formulaic, but only in that there's no formula. Yes, Visions is its own willful contrary. So, faced with this Promethean task to dissipate magic -- and in honour of Grimes' Minnie Ripperton-sized vocal virtuosity -- it's time to suck up a lungful of helium and count to ten...

Visions is Grimes' -- 'Claire Boucher' to her Ma -- third full-lengther and the first for (genuflects) hallowed label 4AD. Not only that, but it arrives surfin’ a tsunami of hope 'n' hype heading to baptize an ever-expanding congregation. Luckily for Visions then it's shots of satisfied sighs all around Barman as not only does it meet the great expectations set by Halfaxa and Geidi Primes, but it tickles their fancy and does a victory lap just for kicks. It's got kindling for Daddy Warbucks' pop crossover, but plenty tales o' the unexpected too. So how best to describe Visions? No idea. But listening to it brought flashbacks of that wild scene from Mean Streets. No, not the 'Mook' bunfight but Harvey Keital's loaded, levitational 'SnorriCam' ride set to Chips' "Rubber Biscuit". An out-of-body, disorientating trip where lights, faces, smells and sounds float by on a goodtime carousel... and sometimes they plant a big wet kiss on your cheek and ruffle your hair.

It's "Art Pop" but it’s definitely got "Pop". If there's a blueprint to Visions it's to lasso a pure pop vocal melody from the ‘80s/‘90s -- preferably early Madonna or Mariah. Speed it up, slow it down, turn it around and then tip it into a blender amongst masterfully diced hip-hop beats and lightly chopped Far East synth-spices. Ming Dynasty, yum. Then serve chilled. "Genesis" has enough spiraling flags, firecrackers and carnival dragons to kickstart a Chinese New Year and comes decorated with such an elegant piano break Vince Guaraldi could've used it to cheer up Charlie Brown. "Oblivion" is similarly hypnotic and halcyon, weaving and bobbing like Del Shannon's "Runaway" under anaesthesia, resplendent with vintage "Why, why, why" harmonies. "See you on a dark night," coos Boucher in her sugar-rush voice over a seriously-supersized royale "Do fries go with that shake?" bass. Later the R&B crystal chandelier sparkle and Prince percussion of "Vowels = space and time" twinkle like Nite Jewel reviving Patrice Rushen's "Forget Me Nots". Both "Vowels" and "Oblivion" even stir echoes of Art of Noise's lush "Moments in Love", a song famously so enamored by Madonna it soundtracked her wedding to Paparazzi-playmate Sean Penn.

But like all bedsit Beethovens, there's a real desire to 'push the sound'. A childlike curiosity to pull it apart, unravel it and rebuild it. "Circumambient" launches with airplane engines and what sounds like someone hitting your bedroom window with a tennis ball. From there, it takes punchy Depeche Mode circa 1987 industrial drums, an Afrika Bambaataa boombox, a stick of gum, a side twist o' the cap, your best b-girl/b-boy 'tude and you're good to go. Similarly "Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)" paints the streets with stars. Picture a crunchier "Celestica" by Crystal Castles -- all wistful dizziness -- add in the sound of a garage door slammin', clone Grimes by five 'Gremlins-style' with water and let the room spin. Later, amusingly, "Be a Body" recalls Paul "Fab Macca" McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time" given a pulsating, neon-junglist paintjob before revealing a J-Horror twist involving a coach load of confused Monks and a Geisha fan dance. Well I did warn you this was hard to describe.

Visions really excels though in its closing act. Having got you hooked on the special stuff and jonesing for more, it brings out the real Class As. The glacial, midnight frost of "Skin" is all James Blake 3:00 am, slow-motion existentialism. Sparse, creaking, basement poetry with a ghostly dubstep edge. Even when you can't catch the talking-in-tongues vocal, the mournful malady lingers. The absolute 20/20 treats of Visions though are the futurist electro-cinematics of "Symphonia IX" and "Nightmusic". The former an atmospheric, widescreen night drive worthy of Blade Runner, rich with "Glitter in the dark". A trance-like glide through neon and rain, its multi-layered vocals and Kraftwerk analogues slowly rising from the horizon. The Tron gridlines of "Nightmusic" are similarly captivating. Bookended by flourishes of operatic melodrama and string quartets it channels much of the ethereal beauty of Crystal Castles' II. Blooms and flourishes of strange, twisted melody burst 'n' fall like confetti and fireworks. Wowzer.

Visions will undoubtedly be on many people's "Best of 2012" lists; the others simply won't have heard it. It's the sound of ghosts in the machine, pixies in the garden, strange lights in the sky. It's a little bit Nite Jewel, a little bit Glasser, but Grimes is ultimately her own sound. Hypnotic, exotic, magical. Sure, it could have done without some of the interludes (the Satie-esque "Know the Way" shimmers but "Eight" sounds like a face-off between Darth Vader and Alvin from Alvin & The Chipmunks) but its overall sense of ambition is intoxicating. Visions' rebellious contrariness to evade classification is part of the design and certainly part of the charm. Buy it, love it. Just don't to try to explain it and definitely don't write about it.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

Keep reading... Show less

Following his excellent debut record Communion, Rabit further explores the most devastating aspects of its sound in his sophomore opus Les Fleurs du Mal.

Back in 2015 Rabit was unleashing Communion in the experimental electronic scene. Combining extreme avant-garde motifs with an industrial perspective on top of the grime sharpness, Eric C. Burton released one of the most interesting records of that year. Blurring lines between genres, displaying an aptitude for taking things to the edge and the fact that Burton was not afraid to embrace the chaos of his music made Communion such an enticing listen, and in turn set Rabit to be a "not to be missed" artist.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.