It seems early to be making this kind of prediction, but it’s hard to imagine anything but Grimes’ new album “Visions” being at the top of “Best of 2012” lists this year.
Grimes, also known as Claire Boucher, has been quietly releasing albums on the Canadian label Arbutus Records for two years, but none have garnered nearly as much universal praise and excitement as her latest. Her recent signing to 4AD, a prestigious British record label, speaks to the degree of talent and potential showcased on “Visions.”
Grimes has described her music as “post-Internet,” and as goofy as it might sound, this characterization is not entirely inaccurate. She says her music is a result of growing up with instant access to any kind of tunes she could want, via the Internet. This has resulted in her unique sound that’s eclectically inconsistent. Every song on the record is infused with influences from all over the place — dance music, 80s pop, new age, K-pop, Top 40 and more.
Boucher sings in an otherworldly, impossibly high-pitched voice that somehow manages to maintain a soulful quality, despite the octaves she reaches. Her voice soars above the bright synth tones in “Genesis,” one of the best songs of the entire album. The lyrics are generally indecipherable and are blended into pure atmosphere, lending to the new age comparisons she often receives.
She uses her voice like an instrument, turning it into another layer of sound that happens to have a distinctly alien quality to it. “Be A Body” and “Symphonia IX (my wait is u)” speak to her affinity for shapeless vocals, as her voice becomes a vapor that floats and swirls around the hard-hitting beats she uses to ground the music.
However, when you are able to make out what she’s saying, it sticks. She sings in “Oblivion” about walking in the dark of night and imagining that, “Someone could break your neck, coming up behind you, always coming, and you’d never have a clue.”
In the almost-ballad “Skin,” she refers to a dying relationship with the lyrics, “Soft skin, you touch me once again and somehow it stings because I know it is the end.”
However, “Visions” doesn’t consist of all experimental, ambient music. The pop songs are plentiful. “Eight” and “Circumambient” are what Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” would have sounded like if Grimes had produced it — like a cyborg dance jam.
“Nightmusic,” which opens with the sound of an alien birth cry, and “Oblivion,” both feature a pounding bass that would not be out of place on the dance floor. Even the brief introduction “Infinite Love Without Fulfillment” is a great pop song in its own right, leaving listeners wanting more when it’s over in just one-and-a-half minutes.
The result of these influences is a record that’s equal parts esoteric and familiar. “Visions” represents the work of an artist with tremendous talent, who has found a sound she excels at making that’s innovative, interesting and, perhaps most importantly, fun.
Her unique singing voice, combined with her solid skills as a producer, allows her to dream up songs that are, at times, atmospheric and airy, and at other times, heavy and poppy. Because of this, Grimes’ “Visions” is light years ahead of current mainstream and indie pop music trends, setting itself to be the album to beat come the “year end” lists.