Millennial Masterpieces #2: Grimes – [Art Angels]

Welcome to Millennial Masterpieces, where I’ll look back at a great album released within the past 17 years and see what its legacy is. Second in the series is the most recently released treasure, Canadian electro-popper GrimesArt Angels.

Released: November 6th, 2015

It’s been a dry decade for standout albums thus far, and the more of these that get written up the more you’ll notice that a lot of them come from the 00’s rather than the seven years we’ve had since 2010. This record is one of the few that, as a whole, has been a consistently great listen front to back.

On paper, it doesn’t seem all that impressive. “Oh, another stylistically diverse electro-pop album with a twee-voiced singer. Cool.” The difference between it and all its peers becomes clear once the first proper song (“California”) hits: Claire Boucher is a stellar songwriter. Hooks upon hooks upon hooks for over a dozen tracks; it’s a relentless onslaught of quality!

If each song were performed in the same style it would still be a gold record, but Boucher takes great care to fashion a distinct vision and personality for each track. There’s the drum n’ bass rush of “Flesh Without Blood”, the glitchy stomp of “World Princess pt. II”, the thrash-rock of “Scream”, all sitting neatly together without sounding like every other genre hopping act in the industry. It’s a middle finger to all the Mikky Ekko‘s and Train‘s of the world, proving that it’s entirely possible to jump from one sound to another without making what amounts to a karaoke album.

The genius lies in how Boucher takes bizarre elements and molds them into a familiar framework, making it both delightfully weird but eminently listenable. It’s a big budget DIY project. Experimental Top 40. Something that fits right in on your local Forever 21 speaker system and as a pre-show soundtrack at an Animal Collective concert. The sugar rush pop of “Pin” features decidedly unappetizing lyrics like “bite off your fingernails, cut off your skin” but makes it work. At various points throughout the record Boucher launches into a full-throated shriek, at others she does some sort of weird vampire-goblin impression that is simultaneously silly and essential.

Everything’s distinctly through her lens, from the snippy lyrics to the massive assortment of sound effects, synth patches, and drum fills strewn across the record. Even moments where she emulates other artists like Kesha or Liz Phair, it’s done in her singular voice.

It’s all done with flippant ease, as if Boucher is showing off. We know this isn’t the case as Art Angels had a famously scrapped predecessor, but there’s no sense of songwriter’s block here. It may not be a record for everyone (both tracks featuring guests aren’t as strong as they could be), but if there’s one adjective that could never be applied to this album it’s “generic”. If anything it shows an artist in her creative prime, trending upwards to even bigger and better things.

Top Three Tracks: “Realiti“, “World Princess Pt. II“, “Kill v Maim