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New Album Review – Grimes Visions
Man has always had a fraught relationship with machines. The middle of the twentieth century must have been a peculiar moment in human history as beeping robots started to invade the home. Suddenly, there was a metal box in your kitchen that could make food hot in a matter of minutes by zapping it with invisible rays. Machines are weird.
The new album from Grimes, the alias of 23 year old Montreal-based musician Claire Boucher, sees her questioning this relationship. In a world where we tweet our consciousness and omniscient Google is God, how much of ourselves are now machine? Even though it’s her third album, Grimes has described Visions as her debut. She has removed the layers of murky sound, opened everything up and produced a sound that is cleaner and more pop-focused. Surprisingly, stripping the songs back has not taken away from the music but brought everything into focus.
Whilst Visions uses a more typical pop structure, there is still a fun sense of uncertainty. The songs feel more balanced, accessible and have integrated elements of synth-pop, R&B and hyperreal K-Pop. It is big, electronic pop but filled with intelligent surprises.
The vocals remain similar to previous outings. Some lyrics can be made out but most of the vocals are used to wash over the music with looping sighs and vocal gymnastics. Sometimes her singing reminds of Julianna Barwick, in the sense that vocals are used like an instrument to establish mood.
Grimes channels Mariah Carey on the fascinating “Circumambient”, which is a bizarre concoction of crunching white noise and stumbling beats. It is an odd melting pot of sounds that manages to remain intriguing rather than off-putting.
The album spurts out 80s tropical pop on “Vowels = Space + Time”, which is the sonic equivalent of injecting MDMA straight into your eyeballs. It is the simplest, most straightforward pop song on the album but gives Grimes the chance to be playful and have fun.
Things get a bit more complex on “Nightmusic”, which incorporates some driving synths and bookmarks the whole thing with two pieces of opera. It sounds brave, experimental and yet still undeniably fun. It is testament to the technical skill of Grimes that she manages to stitch together disparate elements in a way that sounds completely effortless.
The album concludes with the contemplative “Skin”, which is a surprisingly vulnerable moment. The lyric: “soft skin, you touch me within and so I know I could be human once again”, shows someone who, through being touched by another person, can feel certain they are human again. It is a soothing comedown after the screwball adventures in the land of technology.
Visions is one of the weirdest, and best, pop albums in a long time. It shows a musician taking a leap forward and forging her own sound. The electronic wizardry of Visions kindly invites us into the imagination of a young woman.
After the invasion of technology into our everyday lives, can we ever be human again? I’m not sure. Nonetheless, with music like this, the future sounds like a place of synthetic bliss.
The album is out on 4AD om March 12th. www.4ad.com
New Album Review by Matthew Kinlin