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.