Nearly four years ago, the Canadian artist, songwriter and real-life fairy Claire Boucher released her album Visions, which entranced the music scene with its imperfect loops, rough synth percussions and airy vocals. At the time, her astral, extradimensional electro-anti-pop album was considered her most approachable music project yet. But while Visions was induced by deprived extremities (Grimes wrote the album in isolation, deprived of food and sleep), Art Angels is palpably more listenable as it possesses a more nurtured, socially cultivated sound. Art Angels is a manifestation of the constantly progressing, experimental entity that is Grimes.
There are a few glaring differences in Grimes’ evolved style particularly in the wider use of physical instruments such as the guitar — a shift from her sole use of digital mediums in the past. Another deviation from her previous work is Grimes’ decision to articulate her lyrics intelligibly to listeners.
Despite an air of the new, Grimes has not compromised her signature weirdness. The track “Kill V. Maim” is about a space-traveling, gender shape-shifting Al Pacino in “The Godfather: Part II,” Grimes revealed in an interview with Q Magazine.
Perhaps the most striking record on the album is “SCREAM,” which features Aristophanes, the obscure Taiwanese rapper recently discovered by Grimes on Soundcloud. The rapper’s demonic, breathy utterances in Mandarin translate into pure carnal eroticism — and it’s not entirely clear whether the lyrics are about either cannibalism, vampirism, rough sex or all of the above.
Much of Art Angels contrasts upbeat melodies with wistful lyrics. On songs such as “California,” “Butterfly” and “Pin,” Grimes sings over jaunty rhythms with words on pain and destruction. The guitar riffs and catchy choruses of “Kill V. Maim” and “Flesh without Blood” are reminiscent of early-millennium pop punk, while the mellow synthpop elements of “Artangels” incites 80s nostalgia. The bass-laden club banger “Venus Fly” featuring Janelle Monae is essentially an EDM track you can vogue to. Moving beyond the confines of the experimental electronic found in Visions, Grimes uses a variety of stylistic components to add dimension to her craft.
A deliberately curated version of Boucher herself, Grimes has always been a project that pushes the boundaries of the indefinite. But, with Art Angels, Grimes again proves her transformative capabilities. A conglomerate of different elements, the album is at once grounded and ethereal, digital and theatrical, masculine and feminine. Its genre is a nongenre. For a solid, cohesive album, Art Angels is satisfyingly undefinable.