Grimes has popped up in numerous Spotify playlists from SynthPop to Witch House. It makes sense as her style and sound very not just from album to album, but also from track to track within an album. Some tracks are light and poppy while others are gritty and have the potential to make people uncomfortable. Her fourth studio album Art Angels is no exception to the rule. It has been out for a few months now and despite a lack of a strong presence on “the charts” it could easily be one of the best albums of last year. The album was released in November in that rough end of the year time when most people have already compiled/published their best of list for that year and are already window shopping what the next year will bring.
Though it could be described as the most “mainstream” or “commercially digestible” of her albums, Art Angels does not bow down and kiss the rings of the sales driven, formula following, corporate Pop Music machine, nor does it cater solely to any one underground/indie genre’s sound. This album made me think of the kid in class with ADD/ADHD who could not sit still or focus on one topic for too long. As that type of kid, I fully related to this hot mess of an album.
The cover art alone is perfectly weird and the LP comes with 2 sleeves but is not a double LP set (despite there being 14 tracks on the album), that other sleeve is pact full of 12×12 prints of Grimes’ original artwork containing all kinds of creatures and gooey dripping abstract things. It definitely seems inspired by comic book/manga art and is a nice treat.
The album starts with a operatic track that contrasts greatly with the energy of the rest of the songs. It builds and then releases with a demonstration of the true beauty in Grimes’ voice which then gives way to chaotic strings to end the very short track.
“California” is next and it is one of the peppiest/happiest vent tracks I have ever heard. It reads like a wave of frustration with the music industry in addition to the obvious love/hate relationship with life on the west coast. Constant analysis and opinion forming of her look, sound, moods etc. get old quick and can be draining.
“Scream” is probably one of the least radio-friendly tracks on the album; not to say that it isn’t a great song, just that it is probably a bit too “weird” for most. The hook is literally screams followed by breathy growls that immediately drew a slight comparison to Kanye West’s awkward and unnerving end of “I Am A God“. The track features a very talented Taiwanese rapper named Aristophanes quietly rapping in Mandarin which is contrasted by the violent screams.
Other tracks including “Flesh Without Blood”, “Artangels”, “Easily”, “Pin”, “Realiti” and “World Princess part II” are definitely closer to a more traditional pop sound and vibe. Despite being a bit easier to digest for the general masses, they do not give up any of Grimes’ thought provoking artistry. Each track has its own personality and unique flavor.
“Kill v. Maim” stands out as a vicious masterpiece combining cocky pop-driven vocals in the verse with cheerleaderesque bridges and intense chaos-driven hooks. In between the light and airy vocals are growls and attitude for days.
“Belly of the Beat” has a beautiful mix of acoustic guitars and electronic elements creating a very versatile and catchy track. In addition, it is also one of the most openly introspective and reflective songs on the album causing the listener to wander into her head for just a quick peek.
“Venus Fly” features Janelle Monae in a bass blasting “fuck you” to those who attribute success and only give attention to female artists based on their looks.
The album comes to an end with the track “Butterfly” which comes off as a, very justified, take it or leave it track. Grimes is often at odds with needy fans, picky critics and a music industry that wants to put you somewhere so they can sell you. She won’t be the objectified pop princess that she needs to be to fit into the best selling genre but her music is sometimes too poppy for purists in the other genres she falls into. She has found peace of mind accepting her art and knowing she can’t worry about pleasing others. The last line of the song (and the album) sums this idea up perfectly, “If you’re looking for a dream girl, I’ll never be your dream girl.”
At the end of the day the album is fun and catchy through and through which is great for those looking for something to put on to get lifted, in addition there is some serious substance. Sure there are songs about love and love lost, as many pop albums have, but even those tracks are thought provoking and have something substantial lurking beneath the surface.
This album dropped in that rough time between best of lists and during the holidays, I didn’t even notice Grimes had put it out until after the new year. Don’t let this one slip through the cracks, it had major replay potential and has a lot for everybody.
Score: 9 out of 10