Grimes - Art Angels

by Isabelle Kemp

Three years on from the release of the remarkable and critically acclaimed Visions, Grimes returns with her newest album Art Angels.

It has been worth the wait; Grimes has taken her distinctive brand of experimental electro-pop and turned it up a notch. Her tendency towards the eccentric is amplified in Art Angels, which blends her signature erratic synth tones with an energetic lyricism.

The dreamy and ethereal feel of previous hits Oblivion and Genesis are visible on this album, yet Grimes seems to be taking a more pop approach this time around. The overall upbeat tone of the album appears reminiscent of K-Pop, highlighting an increasing range of influences in Grimes’ work.

I was initially hesitant of the fourteen-track length of the album. As Grimes has admitted in interviews, she scrapped the first version of this album earlier this year, deciding to put together a completely new compilation of songs. Yet for an album of this length, seemingly put together in such a short space of time, Art Angels seems to lack any filler songs. Each song deserves its place on the album, each offering different interpretations of Grimes’ synth-pop aesthetic.

From beginning to end, the album is impressive. The classical-style opening, which mixes violin and piano sounds with high-pitched operatic vocals, is more evocative of a film soundtrack than a pop album. It draws the listener in to the immersive experience that is Art Angels, putting forth the celestial vision that Grimes will explore over the course of the album.

Grimes has obviously tried hard to create a total experience for her fans. By creating original artwork for each song, Grimes expands the scope of each track, attributing to each one a specific aura. These drawings, a mixture of comic book art and Japanese animation (think Sin City meets Studio Ghibli) cannot go uncommented on, as they highlight the effort Grimes has put into ensuring that each song represents a particular mood.

Kill V. Maim for example, notable for its heavy beat and old-school dance music vibe, was conceived by Grimes as being an expression of Al Pacino’s attitude in The Godfather Part II. The track is irresistibly addictive and the Al Pacino backstory only adds to its dynamism, giving a hard edge to the track’s otherwise girly vocals.

The collaborations that Grimes makes on the album are strong. Venus Fly, with Janelle Monáe, is enjoyable for its buoyant Gwen Stefani-like feel. Grimes makes an interesting choice of including Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes in the track SCREAM, which arguably requires a certain degree of dedication to Grimes’ overall eccentricity to be enjoyed (it does, of course, contain actual screaming; Grimes makes Lady Gaga appear reticent).

Flesh Without Blood stands out for being particularly well produced. The simplicity of its steady beat and catchy lyrics gives the track a sugary-pop tone, acting as a stark contrast to the punk-infused rowdiness of SCREAM.

Lyrically, the album is rather minimalistic. The straightforward rhyming and repetition of California (“California, You only like me when you think I’m looking sad / California, I didn’t think you’d end up treating me so bad”) potentially seems uncreative at first glance. Yet the simplicity works; it is testament to Grimes’ self-conscious production that she is able to convey depth of emotion so subtly. In the track Artangels, lyrics such as “I don’t need your medicine / Gonna dance all night / I’m high on adrenaline” draws comparison to Halsey’s Badlands album, evoking a similar youthful energy.

It was difficult to know what to expect from this album. Apart from the release of a music video for Realiti eight months ago, the other tracks of the album remained shrouded in mystery until Art Angels’ release. I almost expected that Grimes would have lost her experimental touch in her three-year break post-Visions (her standalone single Go, released last year, received some criticism for its dubstep leanings). Yet she remains captivating as ever. I have no doubt that the eclecticism of Art Angels will not go unnoticed in the critical press; it is sure to make many ‘Best Albums of 2015’ lists, as indeed it makes mine.