Grimes might not be a household name yet, but with latest record Art Angels, Claire Boucher’s alter ego looks set to finally catapult into the mainstream on her own terms, thanks to an entirely self-written and self-produced record full to the brim with inventive art-pop that somersaults over every other pop – and pretty much every other album period – released in 2015.
Art Angels, ladies and gentlemen, is excellent.
The album is a reinvention of Grimes herself as a singer, producer, and artist, and also of modern pop music as Grimes takes aim at the generic tropes and sets them alight with new life, turning out sonic treats for all viewers. In previous breakout album Visions, Grimes finally created content suitable for the dance floor, and this natural progression continues here, allowing for songs with emotional depth and innate accessible appeal.
The pop bangers come in thick, fast, and consistently stellar on Art Angels – the beat-heavy dance-pop anthem and album standout ‘Venus Fly’ is a fierce, feminist manifesto (complete with Janelle Monáe on duet duties) about reclaiming the dancefloor as a safe space, while remaining committed to getting you grooving. Meanwhile, the blistering ‘Kill V Maim’, a romp through time and space as a gender-fluid Michael Corleone (at least according to Grimes herself) set to venomous cheerleader chants and a massive wall of noise-pop sound, and ‘California’, an upbeat Top 40 pop song about male privilege and exclusion juxtaposes the darkness of the lyrics with the sunshine-infused production.
Art Angels itself is an exploration of how modern pop music might or even should sound like – lead single ‘Flesh Without Blood’, chock full of bubbly beats and synths, is charmingly listenable and full of lyrics about the end of a friendship (it’s released alongside the relatively subdued but still blissfully elegiac ‘Life in the Vivid Dream’), while the shiny ‘Pin’ could be a classic single for any number of some mainstream artists, but here is relegated to solid album track status. Grimes uses pop staples and standards – the electro-pop productions, the catchy hooks, the occasional experimentation into other genres – and utterly transforms it into her own design, her own creation.
The whole album seems to be a modern manifesto for several aims – for Grimes to reclaim her space as an artist, for Grimes to create another record steeped in feminism, and for Grimes to fend off claims of becoming ‘commercial’ – by using those sounds themselves, and that archetypal pop music to make her own kind of alternative music sound just like pop, without being anything like it. This isn’t Grimes ‘going pop’: this is Grimes reinventing pop music in her image.
Art Angels is a brilliant collection of wildly creative and inventive songs that are endlessly listenable and thoroughly enjoyable that sees Grimes at her most accessible best. Whether it’s channeling hip-hop fusion pop for ‘SCREAM’ with Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, or with bubbly R&B with the sweet album closer ‘Butterfly’, Grimes has brought forth the album of the year, an album whose talents should be shouted from the mountaintops – or, rather more appropriately, screamed.