Grimes - ‘Visions’ (4AD)

19 Mar 2012

"Weird is just what happens when you walk away from what everyone else wants you to do and let out this crazy subconscious stuff that's been sitting growing in there for ages, fossilizing like oil..."

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Does Claire Boucher want to be a weirdo? She certainly doesn't mind being one. She's confessed her issue with buttons and poppers on clothes ("I can't handle being confined"), doesn't really see herself as a musician and believes in aliens. There's certainly something constructed about how she revels in the weirdness and how it spills over into her music and how she makes it.
 
I guess this is the kind of album where you'd play it to a slightly conservative friend and they'd say, "I like some of it but her voice is just really weird". I've developed a theory, that weird is just what happens when you walk away from what everyone else wants you to do and let out this crazy subconscious stuff that's been sitting growing in there for ages, fossilizing like oil. What makes music really great is when all that music-oil comes out in a way other people get. It's like how all those hydrocarbons sit under pressurised rocks for ages and then make this magic oil stuff we can all use. Great, right?
 
This whole 'oil' analogy works even better in this case, since for Grimes newest album, Visions, Claire Boucher locked herself up for 3 weeks in her room with little to no outside input and minimal daylight by some reports. Holing herself up, taking away outside influences and allowing all the weirdness to come out - there's a strong sense that this is how magic should happen.
 
The album begins at its most poppy with the two lead singles Genesis and Oblivion, preceded by 'Infinite Love Without Fulfilment' - 1:35 of looping voices and dark synths. Genesis is a fantastic pop song, but it's interesting that for this more lighthearted affair, Boucher's voice sticks to a more conventional range. Oblivion follows in this vein, with a tougher synth behind it and singsong childish falsetto "lalala"s. Whilst this may appear to be Grimes at her most cheerful there are still hidden depths - "see you on a dark night", she sings breathily and cannot help but sound sinister. These tracks, along with 'Vowels=Space and Time' and 'Be  a Body', are what sets this record apart from her earlier efforts. It's like there's a conscious effort to get it to make sense, to get petrol for her audience's motors.
 
It all gets a lot darker on 'Eight' (supposedly Claire Boucher's lucky number). The trademark falsetto really comes into its own here, a tiny white dove flying over the dystopian industrial drone that could have come straight out of Blade Runner. We stay in this dark world for 'Circumambient': "Baby I can't say / that everything is ok". Fragile lyrics for a song you can't help but dance to, a marching band one-two to keep you moving.
 
Whispery R&B vocals that climb to Mariah Carey-esque heights really make 'Vowels=Space and Time. Garagey beats and fake steel pan synths mean this could have almost come off a Jamie XX remix. It's on Be a body that she really shows the full range of where her voice can go though - rounded and full to falsetto and thin - set to a chilled-out pseudo-Calvin Harris mix. And just in case we hadn't heard enough of Claire Boucher's vocal personae, the vocoder now comes out on 'Colour of Moonlight'. Then, changing things up yet again, it all goes classical choral on 'Symphonia IX (My Wait is U)' and 'Nightmusic'.
 
We really get the softer side of Grimes on 'Skin and Know The Way' - the former starts off feeling like the slow song off an R&B record, where it all get sexy for a bit, but don't worry, there's a heavier vocoded interlude in the middle. 
 
Grimes has shown us so much more over the course of this record, though. It's almost always enjoyable, even when you're not sure quite where she's landed you, eminently danceable and - did I mention her voice? It hovers around this album, creating light to balance the dark and really establishing that Claire Boucher isn't interested in toning down the weird.
 
So has all this self-mining paid off? There's definitely some golden oil in there, and pretty much all of it would make my engine run. Three cheers for solitary confinement.
 
Check back tomorrow for our interview with Grimes where we chat about 'Visions', perception and whatever else popped into Claire Boucher's wonderfully eccentric mind. 

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