Review: Grimes’ talent shines on “Art Angels”


grimes-artangelsIf Claire Boucher a.k.a. Grimes proves anything on her new album Art Angels, it’s that she’s one hell of an exciting talent.

Not that anyone familiar with her didn’t already know that, but Art Angels further hammers home the point. It’s not perfect, although it hits the mark much more than it misses. Its pop-dominated feel has divided a few of her fans, although in reality the album is the best thing she’s done yet. More than anything, it’s a blast to listen to, filled with catchy songs and top-notch, creative production.

Grimes is an auteur who creates, produces and engineers her own songs, plays her own instruments (she learned how to play several new ones for this album), designs her own cover art, and has directed her own videos. Pretty much by herself, she’s been able to put together an album that will probably be on several critics’ short list of candidates for album of the year. While it does fall short of being the classic she is capable of one day creating, Art Angels is an impressive feat indeed.

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After the orchestral intro “laughing and not being normal,” Art Angels gets going with “California,” a song that sounds at first like a slam at the Golden State but is actually, as Grimes has said, a “hate track” aimed at the music publication Pitchfork. “The things they see in me, I cannot see myself/When you get bored of me, I’ll be back on the shelf” Grimes sings on the track, although listening to Art Angels makes it seem like boring is one of the least likely things she’ll ever be.

That thought is proven on the next track, the oddball Mandarin rap track “SCREAM” featuring Tawainese rapper Aristophanes on vocals and Grimes on production. It’s the album’s biggest curveball and seems to be losing some listeners, but at the very least it serves as a fascinating moment of delightful weirdness.

The album sags a bit from there before hitting its stride, which begins with the infectious “Kill V. Maim,” a surefire hit that is a favorite of fans as well as Grimes herself. Grimes says the song is written from the viewpoint of Michael Corleone in The Godfather Pt. 2, except that he’s a gender-switching vampire who can travel through space. Regardless of what it’s about, “Kill V. Maim’s” screams, squeaky cheerleader hooks and addictive chorus (“‘Cause I’m only a man and do what I can”) all sink their teeth in and refuse to let go.

“Kill v. Maim” begins an impressive run of quality tracks on the album that continues with the “Artangels,” which will grab listeners with its bouncy guitar-pop:

From there, “Easily,” “Pin” and “REALiTi” are all satisfying tracks, leading into another peak moment in “World Princess part II,” a shake-your-butt pop song with filled with beeps, boops, and wonderfully catchy beats:

Following “World Princess part II” is “Venus Fly,” a bass-laden collaboration with Janelle Monae that feels like an attempt at making a bona fide club banger. There’s an initial letdown here as seeing two extreme talents such as Monae and Grimes on the same track bring high expectations, but give it a few listens and it starts to sink in.

The album concludes with “Butterfly,” where Grimes sings “If you’re looking for a dream girl/I’ll never be your dream girl” — perhaps a message to listeners for whom Grimes hasn’t quite gone in the direction they want. The path she has chosen, however, is one that has put her talents on display in satisfying fashion and makes her future possibilities all the more fascinating.

It’s very tempting to slap a higher score than just 4 out of 5 on Art Angels, but there’s a lingering question about how well some of the album will hold up in time, as well as the occasional moment that doesn’t quite achieve the rare air of the album’s high points. Still, Art Angels is awesome and is easily one of the most intriguing and rewarding releases this year. It’s adventurous yet accessible and very much worth exploring for any listener, regardless of musical taste.

Release Dates: Nov. 6 (digital), Dec. 11 (physical).

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