Welcome to Hook & Reel, a series showcasing music that’s guaranteed to catch your ear.
Grimes’ fourth album Art Angels would be considered a complete triumph regardless of who was behind the boards, but the fact that the artist born Claire Elise Boucher wrote, produced and engineered every one of the 14 mind-bending tracks is a testament to Grimes as one of the greatest (and most underrated) musicians of our time. The album dropped exactly two years ago today (Nov. 6), so though every day should be Grimes Appreciation Day, let’s take as special look at one of the decade’s best records.
Every guitar strum, every violin string pluck, every thud of a bass drum and every shimmer of a synth key in the album is by Boucher’s hand. The artist taught herself how to play a bevy of musical instruments in between her still impressive third album Visions and the Art Angels era, wildly diversifying her sound beyond the Garageband effects that surged throughout Visions. Though that seems like a daunting undertaking for any musician, her artistic prowess shines through with how masterfully she’s able to blend these newly learned instruments into her work.
And truly, the sonic elements of the album are a huge part of what makes Art Angels such a critically-acclaimed record. Grimes’ production shifts constantly between ethereal and subterranean; some tracks are lithe and heavenly, scattered explosions of glitter erupting behind vocals like in the fluttering, four-to-the-floor “Butterfly.” Others are opaque and violent, teeming with snarling guitar riffs and hellish percussion like in the bloody, thrilling “Scream,” featuring Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. Even though every track sounds like a radio transmission from a dance club in a distant galaxy, Grimes covers the album with an ample coating of pop glitter and froth, somehow making the extra-terrestrial record her most accessible to date.
Tracks like “Flesh without Blood,” “Kill v Maim” and “California” are as hook-laden as any top 40 smash, and Grimes skips and twirls her way through each catchy refrain like the most seasoned, fully-realized pop star. “Flesh Without Blood” finds Boucher trilling skillfully around songwriting that captures the breath-taking liberation from the people that bring her down, be it critics, friends, or loved ones. In “Kill V. Maim,” Grimes croons, shrieks and roars through a soundtrack to her own version of the Godfather pt. 2, where Al Pacino is essentially a gender-fluid, space-traveling vampire. “California” is a turnt-up, twangy country-pop bop where Grimes soars sweetly through songwriting condemning the industry and press for unfairly judging her move towards more pop-focused sounds. Grimes also created stunning visuals herself for more than half of the album tracks, which frankly can’t be captured in words alone (take time and watch them all on her Youtube channel, you won’t regret it).
Claire Boucher has always been considered a musical mastermind. However, through the Art Angels era, she’s shown that she deserves more than anyone to be at the forefront of the collective conscious of the music world. After all, it’s safe to bet a lot of the sounds you’ll hear from Art Angels will be dominating pop music radio in just a few years’ time, if not sooner.