Due to unfortunate scheduling conflicts, I never managed to see Grimes perform at SXSW 2012. I do, however, consider myself lucky that I’d seen her perform months before she was signed to 4AD at the start of 2012, albeit it was for an opening set before Lykke Li’s show in May 2011. Claire Boucher and all her previous work had then been completely unknown to me. As this goth pixie with a little girl’s voice and fierce eyebrows readied her electronics, I wondered if she was going to pull a James Blake: I still don’t get the appeal really of Blake, and I get bored dead easy watching most electronic artists because I don’t find their “live” sets interesting enough. There was something oddly charismatic about the slight girl from Montreal; she admitted how nervous she was, yet she definitely knew her way around the synth garden before her. I gave her big props then. And now I want to give her big props now for ‘Visions’, a fully-formed, confident first effort for 4AD straight out of the gate for the Canadian artist.
Music by dance artists should be reviewed in order of the tracks as they’re originally meant to be consumed. ‘Infinite Love Without Fulfillment’ is a minute and a half of driving yet sultry electro, disarmed by Boucher’s electronicised voice; it’s a nice lead in to ‘Genesis’ (free mp3 and performance video here), probably everyone’s first real taste of Grimes. It’s ambient, yet it’s got handclaps. I think Boucher herself realised this conflict, as in the promo video for the single, she has her headphones on, seemingly oblivious to the high school antics going on in the background. For me, that’s what good electronic music does: it transports you somewhere, somewhere otherworldly and unachievable when you listen to even the best singer/songwriter, pop or rock acts. The first real good listen I had of ‘Visions’ as a whole was on a plane ride to California for work last month and I felt like I was cruising comfortably in outer space, thinking that aliens would think we’re pretty cool if they had a listen to this.
‘Oblivion’ is more traditional poppy than the rest of the album. With the words, “And now another clue, I would ask / if you could help me out / it’s hard to understand / ‘cause when you’re really by yourself / it’s hard to find someone to hold your hand”, is she showing how she’s afraid of the dark? Or is this a general commentary on life, on how we don’t know what’s up ahead? Not sure but it’s terribly catchy, with its “la la las” and boppy beat. An industrial effect is used against a high-pitched version of Boucher’s voice (there’s the internal battle of styles again) the brief ‘Eight’. I would have liked to see this teased out to a longer version and preferably with a vocal that could be intelligible throughout, but I’m guessing it was purposely short so to act as a short interlude, like ‘Infinite Love Without Fulfillment’.
Having said that, I don’t think the words throughout ‘Visions’ are intended to give you an earth-shattering reaction and it’s acceptable not to go searching for the lyrics or what they’re ‘supposed’ to mean: it’s the beats and how Boucher has strung them together in many disparate ways. While ‘Circumambient’ is more experimentally wonky and doesn’t hit its stride until the final 1/3 of the song, ‘Vowels = Space and Time’ is as fun as anything by La Roux and manages to be crisp electronically in a way La Roux has never been (and never planned to be, really), and you will moonwalk to its beats. Another low key, almost Oriental interlude in ‘Visiting Statue’, and then the breakdancey ‘Be a Body’ with dreamy vocals and a synth effect that sounds like punctuated accordion chords (watch her performing below on a live video from KEXP).
Then I get to ‘Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)’ featuring Doldrums and I’m spellbound. The crunching of beats sound like muffled gunshots, and the layered versions of Boucher’s voice fill the track with light, as do the other various percussive effects employed here. Brilliant. You can take or leave ‘Symphonia IX (My Wait is U)’; except for the beats, it’s too Enya for my liking. The album is quickly brought back to life with ‘Nightmusic’ featuring Majical Clouds, which will suck you in, the various Claire Boucher alter egos singing in your ears like cute little birds. This is followed by ‘Skin’, the longest track on ‘Visions’, clocking in at over 6 minutes. The first 3 minutes of this song is as minimal as Grimes ever gets on this album, but Boucher is not content to rest on her laurels; instead, she pulls the vocals around sonically, so much that you can imagine the waves of words swirling around you. It’s not as catchy, but it works. ‘Know the Way’ ends the album with on a surprising note, first beginning with the sound of running water before singular notes sound and dreamy vocals end your sojourn with Grimes languorously. This album feels good pretty much all the way around, and if you’re looking for a good starter album to get into electronic music, this has enough pop crossover appeal not to disappoint. If you’re already an electronic fiend like me, you’ll find a lot to love in ‘Visions’. Well done, Claire. Can’t wait for your next release.
‘Visions’, the first release on 4AD by Grimes, is available now. She will be performing at the M is for Montreal/Brooklyn Vegan showcase at the Great Escape on Friday the 9th of May at Brighton Digital, with a set time of 20.45.