At first blush, Grimes’ latest full-length, Visions, may seem like a trendy dance-pop album. Go a bit deeper, and you’ll see it’s not that easy to describe. The Grimes wave was a bit slow to wash over me at first, but once it did, it engulfed completely, making me incapable of choosing anything else to listen to. Grimes is one of those artists that became an indie internet sensation before anyone (in the US) knew who she actually was, even though she had been quietly putting out records on Montreal-based label Arbutus for the past few years. The project of Claire Boucher, Grimes has developed from lo-fi home recording natural to a studio-production pro. Her layering of harmonies on top of harmonies on top of electronic-sounding keyboards might seem cold to some, but the vibe the music actually creates is warm and inviting.
How is this achieved? Let’s start with the intro: “Infinite ♡ Without Fulfillment” is a telling and perfectly designed entrée into the Visions world, both in music and lyrical content. A juxtaposition of both indie rock and dance music, it sets the tone of the record and leads perfectly into the beautiful “Genesis” and the mystical “Oblivion,” a yearning dance song at its core. The rest of the album wobbles a bit but remains steady in its fun energy content. “Nightmusic,” which features frequent Grimes collaborator Majical Clouds, has a steady up and down beat that surrounds Boucher’s voice with a beautiful stage. The bass is often thumping in the background of Visions, like a racing heartbeat, true to the overarching romantic theme of the record.
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To me, it is the mellow tracks, such as the haunting “Visiting Statue,” that are most fascinating and stick with me the longest. They aren’t over-layered or too complex, and they take awhile to grow on the ear, but once they do, the whole album shifts magically into place. On these tracks, Boucher’s voice is powerful and accented regardless of all the bells and whistles, as evident on her earlier records. Other times, he synthy embellishments are good for the dance floor (“Be a Body” especially) but feel overdone. “Circumambient,” a clear club-banger, seems rather one-dimensional, focused around its dance music capabilities alone. Some of the songs (“Vowels = Space and Time”) become a bit lost in their own self-conscious disco-hipness. Grimes’ earlier music felt much more grounded in reality, even if they were a little obscure. Boucher’s voice, which has been tampered with on Visions, seemed more stripped down in previous efforts. Yet the mellow flourish on “Skin,” the closing track of the album, wraps a nice bow around the album. A dreamy haze of a song, “Skin” leads into the outro, and it is much less dance-pop than the rest of the record, calling back to Geidi Primes in its trance-like and moody nature.
The worry that exists with a musician like Grimes, who is trending with the current pulse of indie music, is that she will get too caught up and not move beyond. Her being a prolific artist in touch with many genres – one who fluidly combines them and brings one to the surface while another fades – is the key asset to Grimes’ future. She has proved herself to be a chameleon thus far. Only time will tell if this can persist, evolve, and hold the attention of an often fastidious music community from which Grimes grew.