Nick Bollinger investigates the intense electronic art-pop of Grimes.
The fourth album by 27-year-old Vancouver-born Claire Boucher, better known by her performing name Grimes, is bold, abrasive, fiercely contemporary and full of what, in just a slightly different context, might be chart-topping pop tunes. While she employs many of the tricks of current pop – whether it’s her reliance on sampling technology or the way she hammers those auto-tuned choruses – Grimes remains very much a product of the indie alternative world. A painter, video-maker and home-studio auteur, her earlier records were indie by definition; home-recorded electronica released by the small Montreal-based Arbutus Records.
It was her 2012 album Visions, which came out internationally on 4AD, that brought her to a wider audience, and gave a hint of the pop smarts that lurk within this irreverent beatmaker. But with Art Angels she is quite deliberately going wider still. ‘Kill V. Maim’ and ‘Flesh Without Blood’ are pop tunes by any measure, their confrontational titles notwithstanding. But if the hookiest tracks on Art Angels might give Max Martin pause for thought, there is another side to Grimes that is still a long way from the world of Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and the rest of the Swedish hitmaker’s stable.
That is the side that is about making unorthodox collages and painting with noise. And that’s what you’ll find in a track like ‘Scream’, a collaboration with Aristophanes, a Taiwanese rapper whose own music is every bit as much an art project as Grimes is. At this point Grimes seems poised between two worlds with no shortage of ambition or imagination. Whether she winds up dragging pop in her direction or being dragged into the pop mainstream remains to be seen.
Songs played: Kill V. Maim, Flesh Without Blood, Realiti, Belly of the Beat, California, Artangels, Scream, Butterfly
Grimes plays Laneway Festival, Auckland 1 February 2016