In the past Claire Boucher has taken varying steps to shape a kind of anti-reality; from her fantastical musical persona itself, to one particular failed attempt to pack off to New Orleans on a shoddily-built barge filled with potatoes in 2009. Grimes’ breakthrough third record, ‘Visions’, came from a similar headspace, created in a blacked-out room, wrenched out of hallucinations over a practically sleepless three-week period. Up until this point - ‘Art Angels’ - Grimes has been all about escapism.
In turn, Grimes is frequently pegged as some sort of otherworldly musical figure. Plonked on a whacking great pedestal, and mythologised as a larger than life genius, much of the narrative in the run-up to ‘Art Angels’ has been shaped by the press. Predominantly, it revolved around the idea of expectation, and what Grimes was ‘meant’ to do next. There’s the oft-reported tale of how Boucher apparently binned ‘Go’ after a portion of her fans reacted negatively, too; not to mention the complicated and ironic saga of music websites reporting on the very topic of Grimes asking them not to report on her every move as if it were the gospel.
This complex relationship with her critics, and the way that Grimes is perceived and viewed as an artist in general, is a topic that crops up time and time again on her fourth record. “The things they see in me, I cannot see in myself,” she sings on ‘California,’ and appearance - or rather, an awareness of being looked at - reflects in every surface of ‘Art Angels’. The Janelle Monae-featuring ‘Venus Fly’ confrontationally demands “why you looking at me again?” atop tinny, timid melodies which take swigs of silly-juice, and eventually self-combust with rage. It’s the sort of insane production work which consistently defines this entire album.
‘Kill V. Maim’ - Grimes’ personal favourite track - is about a gender-bending vampire version of The Godfather’s Al Pacino, of course. It takes a pronounced dig at the same aggressive, hyper-macho culture Boucher parodied in her video for ‘Oblivion’ three years ago, too. Besides all of that, though, it’s fucking gigantic. Short-circuiting Nintendo 64s self-destruct, engulfed by a rib-thumping underworld of bass. Grimes, all the while, is sickly-sweet and screaming. Closing song ‘Butterfly’ - initially a skippy, chipper burst of strings - soars “higher than an aeroplane,” bursting with audible confidence all the while.
Grimes has previously stated that ‘Art Angels’ is her most vehemently political record yet, and that’s certainly accurate. Lyrical killing and maiming, though - as quick-smart and witty as Boucher may be on this record - is far from the only draw.
Moving away from the self-aware, culture-dissecting side to ‘Art Angels,’ this is a bold, unapologetic, and brilliantly garish pop record. Repeatedly, and without fail, Grimes reaches joyful heights, with monstrously proportioned bangers, and creatively, this is like listening to a kite with a lopped string, snatched away by the wind, and free to travel everywhere without limits. Guitars thrash wild and raw on ‘SCREAM,’ while Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes lets loose unhinged snarls, painting dark, sexual scenes and “desire just awoken.”All the synthetic, claustrophobic blooping that came to define ‘Visions’ is replaced by something smackingly physical, and often unwieldy.
For all of its complexity, ‘Art Angels’ is, at its heart, about one simple idea. It’s impossible to resist the instant, limb-grabbing appeal of the pop music Grimes is making here, and dizzyingly big, this is a record about shaking off every constraint, and wrenching hold of reality with both fists. Defining albums like ‘Art Angels’ - which brazenly stick a middle finger up to preconception, and grasp full creative autonomy - are few and far between. “Welcome to reality,” Grimes sings, and she opens up a whole new realm of possibilities in the process.