Claire Boucher aka Grimes has a lot in common with pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen. Beyond both being Canadian, each know how to write a dance pop song (for Carly Rae: see “Call Me Maybe”, for Grimes: see “Oblivion”) and have just an incredible knack for melody. Their voices are sweet but small, and both write their own music (something a little uncommon for pop singers).
But that’s where the comparisons end. Carly Rae looks the part of a popstar and also acts the part: she writes songs meant to be big pop hits and gets huge producers to help create that sound including Dallas Austin (Michael Jackson, Madonna), Max Martin (Britney Spears, ‘N Sync), and Josh Ramsay (Nickelback and Simple Plan). Grimes is not your normal popstar: she’s a weird art school nerd who loves anime and wears face paint onstage. She speaks her mind and produces and creates her sound all on her own. She’s able to make incredible pop songs without being so manufactured. If you ever see Grimes live (which I encourage you to do so), she absolutely works overtime: she creates all the accompanying music on keyboards and her laptop, does all the singing, and even does plenty of dancing. She’s in complete control and constantly moving.
On her fourth album Art Angels and first in nearly four years since her debut Visions, Grimes amps up the pop but also the weirdness, making for an irresistible record that really only she could make.
Last year around this time, Grimes scrapped the album she was working on, saying “it sucked”. The one song released from that scrapped album was “Go”, which was ultra-catchy and put her more in the EDM world, a more radio-friendly sound. She even came out saying she couldn’t stand her biggest hit “Oblivion” and didn’t like any of her singles. Because of all those comments, my assumption was this second attempt at the album would be creative but definitely not very catchy. But boy was I wrong. These songs are propulsive, infectious, and could be found on any number of radio stations. The difference though is the quirk she finds a way to throw in.
The best example would be “Kill V. Maim”, obviously not your first choice for a pop song title, but the driving guitar line, teen star-like vocal, and cheerleader pre-chorus sound straight out of top 40 radio. However, “Kill V. Maim” is absolutely ferocious, with Grimes screaming like a death metal singer and using the beats to throw punches rather than just get you to dance. “California” is a bright, chiming pop song but it’s certainly not All-American like the Beach Boys: she borrows some Eastern and Oriental sounds to challenge your assumptions. “Scream” is probably the biggest odd-man out as its Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes rapping over a locked-and-loaded bassline with a bunch of screaming thrown in just to keep you on your toes. That may sound strange, and sure it is, but it’s visceral and intense and just sounds plain cool.
It’s not all weirdness, and there is stuff here for people who could do with more dance music and less art school. The Electric Lady herself Janelle Monae is featured prominently on “Venus Fly”, a new feminist anthem that will have men and women alike moving to the beat. Closer “Butterfly” takes a bright, sunny melody and builds into the most optimistic and joyful song you will hear from Miss Boucher.
While Grimes is still young (just 24), I can only think of two other current artists that match her combination of pop songwriting and incredibly individualized creativity: Janelle Monae and St. Vincent. That’s some pretty solid company. While she doesn’t have nearly the experience and accomplish of those two yet, she certainly has the talent to do it. Art Angels is another giant leap forward.
Can’t Miss: “Scream”, “Kill V. Maim”, “Venus Fly” “California”
Can’t Hit: None