Sunday, April 29, 2012

Grimes: Visions (2012)


Claire Boucher, Canadian performance artist and musician under the name Grimes, favors a sprightly, punkish electro-pop not fully dissimilar to Crystal Castles, but less immersive and with a stronger top-40 influence. That's led many to approach her as an indie-grade populist, and admittedly there's some pop-worthy weirdness and oddity to be found here, starting and not concluding with the heavy metal-grade cover art. But the aggressive banality of her songwriting and its distinctly anti-pop tendency toward bland mindlessness seem to undercut some of the more intriguing tendencies she shows off here.

That "performance artist" title is key to understanding exactly what's going on within Visions, which though overhyped is certainly one of the more sharply independent and nuanced albums of the year, clearly recorded and released by someone completely aware of what she was doing and the fuss it would cause. She approaches the LP in the form of a DJ spinning twelve-inch singles, melding grooves into towers of bliss -- but she's the sort of DJ who doesn't give the game up ever, at least not until very very late in the night (long after the crowd has probably left, therefore long after the album has finished). The pleasures she offers are limited and curiously opaque; in the same vein as the Weeknd, she's setting up artificial roadblocks to connecting.

The presentation is certainly fine, though; you can feel her bobbing her head and programming the hooks on "Genesis" and "Oblivion," two excellent early cuts that fulfill the promise of the dark, dense synthpop you might hope for. The only serious debit? Boucher's vocals, which tend toward the emptily twee and flat, and not in a manner becoming to the songs she's singing. This doesn't distract too much at first, but as the beats and backdrops grow more repetitive and less inspired, her cooing and belting seem increasingly like some sort of put-on. And you get that sinking feeling that you're listening to essentially a dilution of a Japanese pop mix CD some high schooler put together in 2001.

In the interest of balance, it's fair to note that it's not hard to imagine Visions working tremendously well as a party album -- just at a very, very specific sort of party, and again, extremely late at night because this is defiantly not a midnight or even 1:00am record, it's most certainly 3:30 or 4:30am, like Waffle House hours. Boucher's potential is considerable; she crafts lovely soundscapes that can tease and twirl enthusiastically, but there needs to be a bit more development and depth happening before she can really live up to the attention afforded this release. As it is, Visions is a limited-appeal project that somehow broke through; one hopes this does no harm to Grimes' chances for future success, but right now people are hearing the potential more than the music.

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