Album Review: Grimes – Art Angels (2015 LP)

A lot has changed for Canadian Claire Boucher, or Grimes, in three years. As she describes it, Art Angels is built on colour in comparison to the “black and white” sound palette of previous album Visions. It’s easy to see what she means; her sound has catapulted from dreamy-synth-pop into a hard-hitting amalgamation of hip-hop, country, industrial and pop.

The album was primarily recorded in Boucher’s home studio in Los Angeles, where she moved to create the album. She also taught herself violin for the record, whilst already playing piano and guitar. Similar to Visions, Art Angels is written, produced and engineered solely by Boucher.

Her ability to create unconventionally enjoyable pop is shown throughout Art Angels. It’s full of elements that should sound odd together but just, don’t. This is a testament to the depth and intricacy of Boucher’s production. She has masterfully fused traditional instrumentation and electronic beats and manipulation to create a sound of her own.

Quite symbolically, track ‘Pin’ is a perfect example of this. Boucher manages to mix intense electric guitar riffs, a strong drum line and manipulated vocals together seamlessly, as if they were meant to be together all along.

It is clear that Boucher’s vocals have also evolved considerably from previous releases. Her voice no longer takes a backseat in tracks and has a strong and commanding presence. This vocal strength makes tracks like ‘California’, ‘Flesh without blood’ and ‘Realiti’ all the more accessible as pop songs.

Art Angels also boasts some interesting featuring artists. Janelle Monáe features on the fiery hip-hop inspired ‘Venus fly’ and perhaps the weirdest track on the album, ‘SCREAM’, features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. The song lives up to its name with intense industrial production, unsettling screaming and Aristophanes rapping in Mandarin.

It’s not all intense and unsettling though. Towards the end of the album we get the stripped back ‘Life in a vivid dream’, which is a delicate pondering of love and existence. Boucher sings, “I could tell you the truth or a lie/I could tell you that people are good in the end, but why/why would I?” over a soft acoustic guitar.

Art Angels is a stunningly weird album full of extremes. Grimes has evolved exponentially to create the record, and you most certainly haven’t heard an album like it before.

Review Score: 9.1 out of 10 AU-APPROVED

Art Angels is available digitally now, with physical copies due in stores next month.

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