Posted by: Jeff | March 14, 2012

Album Review: Grimes – “Visions”

Grimes – Visions [Buy Here]

4AD
Release Date: February 2012
Grade: A-

Grimes – “Oblivion”

Grimes – “Skin”

With a name like Grimes and the album art above, the unknowing listener might expect loud, dark sounds befitting a death metal or hardcore punk act.  Yet Grimes is the adopted stage name of 23-year-old Claire Boucher, a Canadian with an ear for pop structures and a do-it-yourself attitude embodied through the release of two albums recorded in her bedroom.  In a generation where young millennials all across the world record music on computer software and upload it to youtube for mass distribution, Grimes stands well above her bedroom studio peers due in large part to the subversion of standard pop motifs through technology.

It should be said up front that this album is different.  On Grimes’ first album, 2010’s ‘Geidi Prime’, her production techniques – electronic effects processed through so many filters that they sound mechanical – were primarily abstractions.  Snippets of melody in small short-track bursts, atmospheric vocals washed out in ambience.  2011’s “Vanessa” signified a move toward more traditional pop structure, with Grimes molding verse and chorus over the warped sonic textures familiar after ‘Caladan’.  ‘Visions’ is the fully-realized product of this combination.  Both lead singles, “Genesis” and “Oblivion”, are wonderful earworms that envelope the listener before burrowing under the skin.  But Grimes remains quite unique in her craftsmanship, combining and distorting sounds in ways not frequently heard in pop music.

If there’s a comparison to be made to Grimes’ sound, it’s that ‘Visions’ sounds at times like a Little Dragon record produced by Burial.  It maintains pop sensibilities and airiness while incorporating the sound textures common in the UK Garage genre.  The best example is perhaps “Circumambient”, a track that begins with the scratch of a non-existent record player and the hesitant thrum of mid-level bass before a distorted synth and deeper bass kick in ahead of the most plaintive pop verse on the record.  By the time the chorus – really a melodic echo of distorted vocal sounds (“let go” being the only truly discernible lyric) – hits, the song has developed a funky groove befitting a darkly-lit dance floor.

“Vowels = Space + Time” has an R&B vibe and features Boucher’s biggest vocal performance on the record, replete with the requisite falsetto wailing on high notes.  Her vocals are far more restrained on other tracks, like “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)”, which gently unfolds into a dreamy synth-pop song with ambient ooh’s and aah’s.  It’s a beautiful track reminiscent of a choral hymn over the soft presence of percussion that explodes at the end in a forceful breakbeat that plays counterpoint to the soothing ambience of the track.  “Skins” is another brilliant softer track, an approximation of an R&B slow jam digitized in production.

In interviews, Boucher is open about culling influences from all over, a fact evident in the miming of various genre song structures and sounds (garage, synth-pop, euro-dance, IDM, R&B, etc.).  As if to put emphasis on the album’s eclecticism, Boucher even includes a subtle sample of a classical piece by Mozart on “Nightmusic”, washing it in distortion and static.

Where artists like Sleigh Bells have gained critical acclaim for their ability to deconstruct standard pop fare and inject it with a shot of adrenaline to crank it up to 11, Grimes does much the same to subtler effect.  Like Sleigh Bells, the traditional pop structure is in place, but the elements of sound in each track are completely turned inside out, leaving only Boucher’s sweet sing-song voice and cheerleader-esque callbacks intact.  The melody and percussion of ‘Visions’ sounds as if it has been zeroed-out in post-production and brought back to life through the application of some ethereal reanimation technique.  It’s organic in an unnatural way, as if Lady Gaga’s little monsters had taken over her recording studio and added their own haunting flourish to her shimmery pop hooks.  ‘Visions’ exists somewhere in the netherworld between the disjointed sound-smithing of Aphex Twin and the bubblegum of Katy Perry.  Who would have thought it would work so well?

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Responses

  1. Great review! I love Grimes… she manages to be so ethereal and current at the same time. Lots of great music coming from canada nowadays. Love your blog!


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