There’s a part of us that feels like we should give in and read all the press interviews that Grimes has been giving around Art Angels. And then we remember that they all frame her as being ‘weird’ or the freak outsider, as if carving out a non-traditional pop identity is a legit headline. Her name is aligned with nouns like ‘mainstream’, as each successive article adds to this rounded snowball that compounds any feeling of otherness that might already be present. Snore. As if you don’t know what you’re getting when you hit play on a Grimes song; in fact, that sense of belonging to something other than the norm is what a lot of us come here for.
It makes us smile, then, that Claire Boucher opens her new album with a track called Laughing and Not Being Normal, a twinkly and string-driven soundtrack to the alt-horror flick of her mind, the virtual resignation of fucks to be given. That angelic voice pierces, stopping knowingly short of shrill, as she starts her whistle-stop tour of genre as interpreted by Grimes. “You only like me when you think I’m looking sad,” she sings on the handclap road-pop hoedown of California, in a way slicing at the way she might be perceived and perhaps the way she’s come to be loved. But hey, it’s also mainly about a punchy beat lacquering over the occasional notion of suicide. As you do.
Business as usual, then, except for the ditching of that obfuscating electronica that held up her previous work. There’s more clarity, more confidence, more playfulness here, even though it’s coating sad-core insecurities, whether it’s Grimes as producer on Scream, or just simple guitar-driven wonders like Flesh Without Blood or Belly Of The Beat (though they’re still laced with the sort of dark comments that you’d probably refer to the Samaritans). But it’s pop tropes that Grimes has the most joy adapting, whether it’s the cheerleading bridge of Kill V Maim or the 80s synth-pop chorus of the title track that can’t help but raise a smile (while simultaneously being a career highpoint). She may have have ditched an album full of Go, but a lot of what made that song wonderful is thankfully still present here.
For all that talk of weirdness, then, Art Angels takes perception and flips it on its head by being at once both a tribute to past influences while very much underlining the melting pot of pop today. The only misstep comes when Boucher enlists outside help from Janelle Monae, taking away from what is otherwise a relentlessly brilliant album. But it’s time to ditch that freak-flag tag when it comes to Grimes, because Art Angels comes from angles so accessible that it ought to be embraced on a wider scale. We are all in our own ways reflected in the squelching beats of Easily, we’re in the dour admissions of Realiti, and we’re certainly united in the ecstasy that comes with this being the finest pop album of the year.
Art Angels by Grimes can be ordered here.