Grimes: Visions Review (Three Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three Takes on Visions by Grimes.
Jon Jon Scott (Sound Verite)
Montreal’s 23-year-old Claire Boucher is a self-styled producer, artist, and remixer. She left Vancouver for Montreal to attend McGill University and studied philosophy and neurobiology before discovering GarageBand. In 2010, she dropped out of McGill with two records. Newly signed to 4AD, Grimes delivers with Visions, a run-through of electronica stylings and pop sensibilities. While some of her early work may have suggested the gothic charm of Fever Ray, here on Visions, her sound is broader.
“Infinite Without Fulfillment” rides swinging, jagged percussion. The bouncy, synth-driven lullaby of “Genesis” has the singer’s signature high-pitched, arty vocals on top of a driving beat. Boucher’s girl pop vocals are in full-effect with ooh oohs and la la las on the romper “Oblivion”, where she pleads “I need someone now to look into my eyes and tell me girl you know you gotta watch your health.” She gives us cryptic glimmers of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” with “Color Of Moonlight,” and goes mod-disco on “Visiting Statue,” which is colored in more girl pop shades. Boucher’s vocals are chameleon and distinctive, an effect that works on songs like “Visiting Statue.” “Vowels=space and time” is aided by snappy drum machine march. Boucher’s experimental R&B vocals shine on “Skin,” where she does her best Aaliyah with a careful falsetto and stutter beat.
It’s interesting how Boucher describes her music as “post-internet,” because her music is all internet-driven. Visions’ soft electro-art rock makes like this year’s tUnE-YarDs: a breakout female artist unabashedly incorporating all that is relevant in 2012. Visions takes up a perfect space between to Poliça’s downbeat Give You The Ghost and the quirky pop of tUnE-YarDs playful w h o k i l l.
This record is a little chirpy for my tastes. As far as looped, dreamy female vocals go, I’ll take Julianna Barwick’s moody elegance over Grimes’ squeaky energy any day of the week. Still, upon hearing Grimes debut Visions, I understand what people seem to like about it: It’s complex, well-constructed dance music. It may sound to me like a band fronted by a 13-year-old anime character/chipmunk . . . but one who obviously knows what she is doing. I’m actually surprised to find that I enjoy tracks like “Genesis” and “Eight,” if only for their great beats and production value. Maybe someday I’ll come around and get into the voice, but I think it’s going to take some time. Maybe it’s the fact that the two records I have had on lately are this one and Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas. If there was ever an antithesis to Cohen’s new album, Grimes’ Visions would surely be it.
Sage (Cedar Cultural Center)
Visions is Grimes’ first proper full-length release, though her songs and impending hipness have been swimming around the internet for months. And while I don’t normally find value in genre names like “grave wave” or “witch house,” when describing this album they are surprisingly apt. A recent study claims that modern parents feel classic fairy tales are too scary for their children. On Visions, Grimes takes it upon herself to prevent the darkness of these children’s tales from going anywhere—even if she has to play all the parts herself.
And she does. The woman behind Grimes, 23-year-old Claire Boucher, takes a bedazzled hammer of electronics and keyboard and pounds simple, catchy beats into your brain. These are layered with dreamy arpeggios, “oohs,” “ahhs,” and other sounds from outer space. But when she coos “oh baby” it’s no more compelling than when anyone else does. Paired with her baby-doll falsetto, I can’t seem to fully get past that.
It may no longer be a valid critique to say an artist’s album doesn’t play like a cohesive whole. But if an album doesn’t have a strong linear flow, why have an intro and an outro? In this case it delays a strong start and belabors an already drawn-out ending with songs that are only partially formed.
Visions also feels top heavy. The catchiest, most danceable tracks (“Genesis,” “Oblivion,” and “Eight”) are clumped together in the first 12 minutes of the album. Much of the rest feels like filler. The last full track is the exception. ‘Skin” builds over the course of six minutes, and shows the influence of Lykke Li, with whom Grimes toured last year.
“Skin” also demonstrates what I want more of on future Grimes recordings: depth, complexity, and more vocal range. I hope the falsetto is a phase. When you catch a glimpse of Boucher’s real voice, it’s deeper and darker, more PJ Harvey than pop princess. I didn’t think Visions was earth shattering, but it grabbed me enough that I’ll stick around to see what happens next.