PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Grimes: Art Angels

With a healthy boost in confidence and production value, Claire Boucher makes manifest her boundless passion for the manic whimsy of pop music.


Art Angels

Label: 4AD
US Release Date: 2015-11-06
UK Release Date: 2015-11-06

Claire Boucher, the singular voice behind Grimes, built a universe around herself with her 2012 indie breakthrough Visions, and with the seismic shift in approach that has spawned her latest album -- and the one most beholden to pop convention -- Art Angels, the fans who once found themselves invested in the world of the former album may feel neglected. In 2015, Grimes has shed much of what skyrocketed 2012 Grimes to the spotlight at the foreground of the indie pop scene, after all: breathy, self-conscious vocals, slow-paced songs, a persistent haze of dreamy effects, consistent, meditative compositions. Art Angels, in contrast, is a monstrosity of dynamic pop volatility.

There’s good reason for this. In just three years, Boucher has endured a tremendous evolution both in a technical capacity as a producer, musician and singer and also as an artist capable of realizing the ideal version of her creative vision. Slow-to-evolve songs are no longer the default as they were on Visions because they simply don’t have to be; on Art Angels, beats can be redirected four times during a single hook, standard melodies are upended and weaved into unconventional patterns, and whole stylistic conventions end up fractured in freaked-out collages of Europop, EDM, and bubblegum. The sudden eruption of Boucher’s technical talent and capability has launched a renewed passion for frenzied experimentalism that does her music well.

Throughout the record, Boucher shows a natural attachment to the glossy appeal and universal reach of pop music, but more important is her ability to draw out the latent versatility of the genre rarely touched on in the mainstream, especially in the span of a single record. On Art Angels, you can find everything from Julia Holter-esque pastoral pop (“laughing and not being normal”) to Taiwanese rap (“SCREAM”) to deranged near-EDM bangers (“Venus Fly”) not to mention just about every flavor of pop music from the last 30 years, if only in fits and spurts during particularly variegated cuts like “Pin”, “World Princess, Pt. II”, and the infectious title track. If the stock mode of pop is considered to be tame or sterile by voracious music lovers skeptical of the mainstream, Art Angels is an attempt to escape that with as much pop-informed inhibition as possible.

Boucher is now exactly as expressive, confident and willing to dabble as the genre allows. Her progression as a singer is one of the most stunning revelations from the album, concisely showcased in songs like “Kill V. Maim” where her vocal style spans from an audacious growling outbursts to spunky cheerleader chants with plenty of bubblegum melody in-between. Her signature wispy falsetto is still very much in play on the record as well, but its role now is to mostly provide hints of color to the background, showing that Boucher is capable of using the trademark methods of her lo-fi past to add yet more layers of unique texture to the album’s already oversaturated and surprisingly dense pop core. That fearlessness that now characterizes her singing is detectable in equal measure in every component of the album’s production, as well.

Although Boucher’s devotion to inventing wildly diverse pop music amalgams seems like the defining experiment on Art Angels, the record doesn’t suffer from too much at once. Despite its many stylistic crossovers and vast pool of influences, the album is amazingly well paced, featuring a methodical balance of over-the-top sugar bomb pop (“Flesh Without Blood”, “Kill V. Maim”, “World Princess, Pt. II”) and more modest ballads (songs like “Life in the Vivid Dream”, “Easily”, and “Belly of the Beat”, which almost offer even more diversity between them than their aggressively spunky counterparts). It’s truly one of the most well-rounded and best-conceived pop albums of the last few years in that respect.

Even more than that, though, Art Angels is an uncompromisingly colorful conception of pop music’s kaleidoscopic future, a clash between modern dance pop conventions and the independent sensibility of a singular artist. In a pop music climate more sensitive to the creative input of auteurs than ever, Boucher has made her many talents accessible to the mainstream to an extent she’s never pursued before. Art Angels is the arrival of a underground juggernaut into the heavily-guarded realm of mainstream pop, an entrance which leaves behind only the ephemera of lo-fi bedroom production and puts in its place a fearlessly manic display of pop prowess, laudable not only for the level of confidence involved but also for its fundamental individuality. In the fiercely competitive pop world, the coalescence of earworm melodies, lush production, and dynamic performances is usually the unlikely result of an ensemble effort of high-salaried professionals; alone, Boucher beats them at their own game and then some with one of the most rebellious, uncommonly bizarre records of the young post-modern pop era.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.