In the current age of massive human impact on a global scale, scientists have frequently debated the distinctness of this new period of human influence on the world. This unofficial epoch has been dubbed “the Anthropocene.” Enter Grimes, darling of the electronic genre and master of sonic camp, here with her fifth full-length album, Miss Anthropocene.
This album, layered with theological imagery, is just as somber as one might expect from an album reflecting the world in its current state. At its core, however, the album embodies the concept of change, whether it be climate change or societal change. Grimes attempts to place the hyper-contemporary issues of the world in front of our eyes in just 44 terrifying minutes. Throughout the album, she continually injects indirect commentary on everything from pollution to drug abuse, truly encapsulating a pessimist’s view of the world in 2020.
What stands out, however, is Grimes’ ability to create an entire world through just a single sense: sound. To listen to Miss Anthropocene is to be fully immersed in the auditory experience. This is where Grimes’ talent is at its undeniable peak: The album displays her ability to weaponize sound in order to draw the listener in to what she is creating. When listening to this LP, one finds themself visualizing the world Grimes envisions — a dark, unnerving dreamscape that feels even more like a nightmare than nightmares typically do.
On “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth,” a more than six-minute long journey introducing the sonic landscape of Miss Anthropocene, one feels as if they’re traversing the mind of Grimes herself. With extremely limited and sometimes indiscernible lyrical content, the song relies heavily on Grimes’ abilities as a producer, conveying her message through sound alone. “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is a highlight of the album, encompassing the anxiety present on Miss Anthropocene through rumbling, distorted synths and sparkling electronic accents. Grimes observes how the expansion of technology and industrialization seems to contribute to climate change, also describing her growing anxieties surrounding the fleeting authenticity of human experience and imagining what this world would sound like in its most extreme form.
This cynicism, however, can fatigue listeners over long, uninterrupted intervals. This is where the thick of the album becomes quite tiresome. Although outlying tracks such as “Violence” or “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” undoubtedly re-energize the tracklist momentarily, much of the album’s center still feels monotonous. Past the few opening tracks, one becomes fixed in the misanthropic lens many of these tracks maintain, with little sonic variety or air to breathe outside of the dreary lyrics presented. Unfortunately, it becomes easy to suffocate when surrounded by this contemptuous tone, and with no hope or ease offered by Grimes in these songs, the listening experience easily slips into monotony.
Miss Anthropocene regains its footing, however, in its grandiose conclusion. The final two tracks, “Before the Fever” and “Idoru,” offer much-needed sonic and lyrical variety to the tracklist. On “Before the Fever,” Grimes finally finds the climax of the album’s concept. With the return of the rumbling bass introduced in the leading track, Grimes finally delivers what was promised almost eight tracks prior: the descent into chaos. This track brings just that, the lyrical and audible nightmare Grimes no doubt envisioned with Miss Anthropocene — the apocalypse. If each track on this record explores issues surrounding contemporary society, then “Before the Fever” is the result of these issues coming together in a worldwide catastrophe. “This is the sound of the end of the world,” Grimes sings, aware that she has found the album’s crux within this truly outstanding track.
If “Before the Fever” is the album’s climax, “Idoru” is its aftermath. This track starkly contrasts the album in every way, departing from its tropes both sonically and lyrically. “Idoru” is both a breath of fresh air and the calm after a storm, which is exactly what Miss Anthropocene needs. The track opens with birds chirping and a flute singing, lightly moving through what feels like a tropical paradise. “I want to play a beautiful game,” Grimes gestures — and for the first time on Miss Anthropocene, a light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.