Grimes – ‘Art Angels’

Claire Boucher retains her alien spirit on a fourth album that dabbles in pop

Thus far, the story of Claire Boucher’s long-awaited fourth Grimes album has been that of an artist determined to assert control over her own narrative. Often, this is as much about correcting small misconceptions as it is about articulating big ideas, like the album’s worth of material she scrapped in 2014, which wasn’t necessarily a ‘scrapped album’ per se, so much as a bunch of “depressing” tracks no longer representative of where she was at. Likewise, while her startling new single ‘Flesh Without Blood’ is definitely not a breakup song (“I don’t write about love anymore,” she helpfully clarified on Twitter) it does concern a parting of ways of another sort: “It’s nice that you say you like me, but only conditionally”, she sings in a broadside against the fans who accused her of pandering to the mainstream with last year’s ‘Go’. The rapturous pre-chorus hook of “Now I don’t care anymore” makes Boucher’s feelings on the matter clear: either you’re with her, or she’s already left you behind.

It would be reductive to call this record Boucher’s ‘Grimes goes Pop’ moment, but it certainly feels like an attempt to bridge the gap between her fervent online cult and tangible, real-world success. On the Rihanna-sampling pop-country sugar rush of ‘California’ or the frenetic, guitar-heavy ‘Kill V. Maim’, where she sounds like an entire pyramid of demented K-pop cheerleaders, that transition seems both effortless and inevitable. At other times, it merely seems perplexing – why trade outsider-artistry for the servicable likes of ‘Artangels’ or ‘Easily’? Yet enough idiosyncrasies remain to ensure you won’t mistake it for the work of anybody else. More than enough. The macabre horrorcore of ‘Scream’ – effectively a showcase for Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, who Boucher discovered on Soundcloud – might sit incongruously on the tracklisting, but it’s also a winking acknowledgement that even as her sound broadens, Grimes’ determinedly-weird ethos remains delightfully intact.

By embracing the pop orthodoxy, you might argue that Boucher has sacrificed some of what made her seem so alien when 4AD debut ‘Visions’ emerged from the ether back in 2012, but rest assured: she’s still laughing and not being normal, only this time, it’s all the way to the bank.

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