Grimes is the one-woman cyborg-pop project of Montreal's Claire Boucher. Visions, her compulsively listenable third album, is an electro cotton-candy entryway to her peculiar kind of bliss.
As a child I feared the day the world would be taken over by robots; these days I am seized by a much more potent fear that I am becoming one. Digital interfaces invade our imagination in strange, tangible ways, and with each day I spend in front of my computer screen, the red Gchat dots representing my friends and co-workers start to look more and more like HAL. Have you ever caught yourself trying to open a new tab in your brain? Was the Wikipedia blackout of 2012 as important a cultural moment as the New York City blackout of '77? Do androids dream of electric sheep, or do you not have an app for that yet?
"Post-internet" is a term that's stuck all too easily (guilty as charged) to Grimes' airy cyborg-pop, thanks in part to her endless quotability in acknowledging the digital world's influence on her aesthetic ("The music of my childhood was really diverse because I had access to everything.") But Visions, the latest and best album from the one-woman project of Montreal-based Claire Boucher, complicates the all-too-tidy "post-internet" tag by bringing into focus the many contrasts at the heart of her music: tensions between pop structure and diffuse atmosphere, between technology and the human body, between sensory-overloaded hyper-presence and transcendence. More solidly constructed and a lot more fun to listen to than anything she's put her name to so far, the electro cotton-candy of Visions is an inviting entrance into Grimes' peculiar kind of bliss.
On her first albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, Grimes buried pop impulses within textured muck and gloomy tones. But Visions finds Boucher mining not just the clean brightness of Aphex Twin-like atmospherics but also the immediacy of straight-up mall-pop: "Vowels = space and time" recalls nothing so much as Stacey Q's 1986 hit "Two of Hearts", while "Infinite Love Without Fulfillment" sounds like Boucher broke into the Apple store after hours and turned on all the display iPads to the same Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam video, rhythmically looped into something sublime. Some of Grimes' reference points call to mind the experimental pop of Nite Jewel or some of the artists on the 100% Silk roster. But that music seems interested in obscuring pop's immediacy or keeping a distance from the pleasure center, while Visions is an unabashed embrace of its source material, whether it's K-pop, new age, or bubblegum.
Boucher spends most of Visions singing in a vaporous falsetto. She occasionally manipulates her voice (as on the steely, Transformers-jam "Eight") but mostly she just loops it, layers it, and cloaks it in reverb; there are moments when what she's doing doesn't sound too far off from what Julianna Barwick's music might sound like if she were interested in making a synth-pop record. The most common complaint I've heard of Grimes come from people wishing her songs were more structured or hooky, or that her voice was more "present." But-- never mind the fact that even the haziest moments on the record are anchored by melody-- this diffuseness is one of Visions' most refreshing charms. Another oft-cited quote from Boucher the "post-internet" poster girl: "Basically I'm really impressionable and have no sense of consistency in anything I do." This is pop music for ambient fans, but it's also a welcome change for anyone exhausted by post-Gaga pop's tethers to artifice, theatricality, and skronky, turned-up-to-11 beats. To reach out and touch this music would be like putting your hand through a cloud.
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But there's still that tension: Song titles such as "Be a Body", "Visiting Statue", and "Skin" are all testaments to Visions' interest in the corporeal. When she sings the titular lyric on "Be a Body", it sounds like a nagging request to come back down to earth, while "Skin" (which has a sputtering sensuality, like a robot programmed to write a slow jam) feels even more revealing: "Soft skin/ You touch me with it and so I know I can be human once again." Still, don't confuse these moments with any kind of new-agey, back-to-nature longing. One spin of "Genesis" is enough prove it: Post-humanism sounds like a blast.
Late last year, Simon Reynolds described electronic music's response to our digitized world as a new kind of maximalism: "a hell of a lot of inputs... in terms of influences and sources, and a hell of a lot of outputs." That's an apt description for the music that Grimes was making before, but Visions showcases a streamlined aesthetic, resulting in a statement that feels focused, cohesive, and assured. It's simple enough to leave room for Grimes to grow, but this thing is so compulsively listenable it's hard to come away from it wanting much more. Anchored to the digital imagination but unbridled from its skittish anxiety and concerns, Visions gestures skyward and beyond.
-Lindsay Zoladz, pitchfork