Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, released her fourth studio album “Art Angels” in early November. This album differs greatly from her last release, “Visions,” which, although painful to create, brought her critical acclaim and launched her into the spotlight. Where “Visions” is dark and dismal with hard to understand vocals and the heavy use of synthesizers, “Art Angels” is a breath of fresh air.
Much of “Art Angels” is bright and poppy, with live instrumentation. These instruments are seemingly performed by Boucher herself, as she learned how to play guitar, drums, keys, violin, and ukulele in preparation for the album. She also sings on the majority of the tracks, with the exception of “SCREAM,” where all vocals are performed by Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, and “Venus Fly,” which features R&B singer Janelle Monáe alongside Boucher on vocals.
The album’s single, “Flesh Without Blood,” shares a common trait with the other tracks on the album: that is, pairing fun, bouncy instrumentals, and tone of voice with darker, or at least sad-sounding lyrics. While Boucher claims on her Twitter that this track is not a breakup song, as she “[doesn’t] write about love anymore,” the lyrics sound similar to breakup songs released by other artists in the past. However, this track is directed toward a former friend of Boucher who was hurt and disappointed many times before finally giving up on the person. “Flesh Without Blood” was paired with the track “Life in the Vivid Dream” for a two-act music video released about two weeks before “Art Angels” dropped.
According to Boucher, many tracks on the album have special meanings. The second track, “California,” is directed toward music critics who have criticized Boucher for changing her style from the last album, where she sounded much sadder. It also expresses her annoyance with the issues surrounding “Go,” a previous single. Boucher had scrapped an album she had been working on close to when “Go” was released, and due to the poor fan reactions to the single, many critics and reporters mistakenly published that the fan distaste was the reason for the scrap. Instead, Boucher had just found the album to be “too depressing.” The title track, “Artangels,” expresses love for her hometown, Montréal. “Venus Fly” fights against people looking at Boucher and Janelle Monáe for beauty and femininity instead of talent. The most entertaining of which comes from “Kill V Maim,” which, Boucher claims in an interview with Q Magazine, was “written from the perspective of Al Pacino in ‘The Godfather Pt II,’ except he’s a vampire who can switch gender and travel through space.”
Boucher sounds much stronger in “Art Angels” than she did in “Visions”. This may be due in part to the difference in how the albums were made. “Visions” was made entirely in Garageband and was recorded over the course of three weeks while Boucher isolated herself to extremes. She blacked out her windows and barely went out, took drugs, and refused to sleep. The album she created was dark and depressing as a result. “Art Angels,” on the other hand, was created without these conditions. She still retreated into her mind for creativity’s sake, but Boucher did not want to continue the harmful extremes she used in making “Visions.” Instead, she produced the entirety of the album, as she disliked not having control in studios, and learned new instruments to explore what she could do.
Despite Boucher’s vocal attitude toward critics, “Art Angels” has been surprisingly well-received. Metacritic gave the album an 88 out of 100, Pitchfork awarded an 8.5/10 and a Best New Music, and it was rated four and a half stars on Billboard. In fact, the lowest score garnered was a three-star rating from The Guardian. It can be hard to predict where Boucher will take Grimes in the future, as her last two albums have been so different from each other. It should not be hard for her to find an excited audience, though, which will most likely grow as more and more listeners find her albums.
Boucher has definitely outdone herself with her latest album. The strong lyrics contrast well against the bright instrumentals and vocal performance, which can make the annoyed and potentially angry lyrics sound just as happy as the rest. Every track carries weight and meaning, and these meanings can be easily applied to the life of the listener, whether they have had to deal with someone treating them poorly, or they’re just disappointed in someone they know. Around Boucher’s harsher lyrics are fun, danceable tunes that could get anyone’s foot tapping, and the mesh of electronic and live instrumentation facilitates an upbeat atmosphere. “Art Angels” is a wonderful addition to the Grimes collection, and fans should be excited for what’s to come.
Megan Sabers is a fourth-year student majoring in business marketing. She can be reached at MS789222@wcupa.edu.