Monday, January 11, 2016

Art Angels | Grimes

I love Grimes. Need I say more?

Yeah, I should probably say more. I fell in love with Grimes' dreamy electronic music just last summer (specifically her album Visions), and this fall she released her fourth album, Art Angels. This new piece of art is a departure from Grimes' older material in a number of ways. While the production of her previous albums did not bother me, Art Angels is so much cleaner. Claire Boucher (that's Grimes' real name) likes to make her albums by herself - not only the writing, but also the artwork, production... she just kind of does everything, and while that was always admirable, seeing her improve so much in only a few years is even more exciting. We can make direct comparisons with the fan-favorite song "REALiTi," which was released as a demo earlier last year and re-worked for Art Angels. I may still prefer listening to the demo simply because it's more mellow, while the new, crisp version has more energy in it. Still, the production quality has improved - that is indisputable.

In an article by Emilie Friedlander at The Fader, it was noted that Grimes performed all of the instruments - and she uses real ones in addition to synths now, and that has changed the flow a bit and allowed for more diversity among the tracks. There are actually a number of guitar-led songs on this album. The other big change we see on Art Angels... Well, the songs simply have a different feel than her earlier work. In that same Fader article I mentioned earlier, Grimes explained that much of her music sounded "sad," before but "this time it’s more happy and angry." That seems to sum up the change perfectly. In fact, there are some tracks that sound both happy and angry at the same time. I listen to her previous albums when I embrace weakness, but I listen to Art Angels when I want to be strong. Hence, while it's a little easier for me to appreciate the darker tones of Visions, Art Angels is a very special album to me. 

Grimes has made some really relaxing music all across her discography, and this album is no different. Songs like "California," "Belly of the Beat," "Easily," and "Butterfly" sound like a sunny, laid-back summer day. This certainly isn't sad Grimes - this is a carefree Grimes that uses guitars and a piano in addition to her synths to give us more of a raw feel (but less so with "Butterfly," which I feel will appeal to fans of "Genesis"). Carefree Grimes can still make some jabs at haters, but anyone who has heard the lead single "Flesh without Blood" would know that with lyrics like "After all, I just don't like you." Perhaps on the first listen it might sound happy and fluffy, but I think empowering is the better word. Hearing the line "If you don't need me, just let me go" is like a therapy session.

However, as Grimes promised, we get to feel the rage too - the angrier songs are the most energetic of her entire discography. The most aggressive track (and one of the most experimental) must be "SCREAM," which features the Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. As I mentioned in my 2015 singles countdown, this song is CRAZY. Grimes screams her head off as Aristphanes makes growly noises... It's kind of scary, and the electric guitar instrumental sounds appropriate for an Underworld film. But the other two more energetic tracks, "Kill V. Maim" and "Venus Fly" (which features Janelle Monae), are more electronic-based and, well, not scary. Grimes is basically cheering in the pre-chorus and chorus of "Kill V. Maim," and I especially enjoy the spacey intro and outro of this one. However, the Janelle Monae collaboration, "Venus Fly," may win the trophy for the most energetic track of the bunch. The high-pitched electronic breakdowns are flawless and easy to jump around/dance crazily to. Janelle and Grimes are sassy and confrontational as all get out, and I love it.

My favorite track is different than much of the other songs - "World Princess Part II." I recommend every fan of Grimes' previous albums that might be hesitant to embrace her new material to start with this one. It has everything I love about both Visions and Art Angels. Instrumentally, it sounds almost like a video game - it's that perfect combination of darkness and lightheartedness that only Grimes can create. It's an epic of sorts. The accompanying lyrics are bound to make any listener feel powerful, especially as she repeatedly declares "It's mine." However, the outro seems to lead the World Princess' tale of strength to the end of her reign, recalling the feel of Grimes' older material. The music dwindles as Grimes'  haunting backing vocals come to the forefront: "I stare into the darkness / I don't know where I am / I haven't seen the daylight since I thought of giving in / My eyes are feeling heavy, my feet are moving slow..." The only other blatantly sad moment on this album comes in the form of "Life in the Vivid Dream," which quite memorable despite being only a minute and a  half long. This song is the most acoustic of Grimes' material and may be one of the easiest for fans of most genres to like, not only because it is simple, but because it's emotional and easy to relate to.

Out of all the albums released in 2015 that I listened to in full, Art Angels is probably my favorite. I love every song - even the ones that didn't originally stand out to me on the first listen would be put on repeat later. Art Angels is definitely the most 'normal' sounding album by Grimes and is more accessible to mainstream-loving listeners, but it's still experimental, it's still genuine... It's Grimes. It's brilliant.

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