With all this talk of noise producers going techno and outsiders making dance music (100% Silk, et al.), what happens when those lo-fi impulses synthesize into pure pop instead of half-cut dance? Canadian Claire Boucher's Grimes project provides a bit of a hint: starting out with homemade synth-pop trifles where you had to really strain to hear the songs, her split LP last year with fellow Montrealer D'eon showed an emerging voice, with slightly clearer sonics and impressively hooky songwriting. Her debut album Visions—picked up from small label Arbutus by indie giant 4AD—continues down the same path, a precocious little pop album made from broken keyboards and Boucher's elfish, multi-tracked voice.
If the distinctly homemade, slightly grainy quality of the synths doesn't grab you first, her voice will: Boucher can go high, and she spends most of Visions in her extreme upper register. She's not afraid to manipulate it either, raising it to a chipmunk squeak ("Eight"), or layering breathy exhortations into what sounds like a hissing cloud of voices. It's the kind of thing that's going to make or break the record for you—and if you don't have a particular tolerance for her brand of eminently precious singing, you're probably not going to get too far with Visions.
If that's the case, that's too bad, because Visions has a lot to offer. The album is split evenly between outright pop songs and more experimental sketches, but the careful sequencing keeps things fluid. The cloying stateliness of "Visiting Statue" is a natural foil to more wrenching and complete tracks like the toy grandiosity of "Vowels" or the breathlessly cheery "Genesis." But if you're looking for production values, in its own charmingly amateur way, Visions packs a lot into "lo-fi." The machines at Boucher's fingertips are often as prominent as she is, and she makes no pretense of their artificiality: on "Oblivion," easily the album's most accessible track, the bass-heavy synth cuts through the track like a nasty short-circuiting wire.
Slightly distant, hazy synth pop is dime-a-dozen these days, and it's easy to get wrapped up in skepticism around this stuff. But there's something polyglot and cosmopolitan about Boucher's particular brand. From Cyndi Lauper '80s-popisms ("Symphonia IX") to K-Pop hysteria (the half-understandable chorus on "Be a Body" bears resemblance to broken English efforts by groups like Girls Generation) to a medievalist sort of regality on "Nightmusic," she's wrapping up a lot into her neon-hued world of mini-histrionics and buzzing machinery. Part of why Boucher impresses so much is that it doesn't sound like a mess.
Regardless, the album's most bewitching moment is its last, with the haunting "Skin." Reduced to Boucher, more naked than ever, set against a single resonant bass synth, she sings her most confident melody winding melismas around each line like calligraphy, and lyrics about being "human again" cut close to the bone on an album that mostly sounds like it was created by little dancing aliens. It's an arresting moment of no-bullshit seriousness for an artist who could easily be criticized for her apparent flightiness or aesthetic distance. And it's true, Visions is marked by a number of characteristics that make up a broad swathe of forgettable, barely-there music—it sounds distant, cheaply produced, with songs that seem to flutter in and out of earshot rather than command attention—but it's executed with such personality, earnestness, and feeling that it feels so much louder and present than it really is.
Buy Grimes - Visions at
Tracklist: Grimes - Visions 01. Infinite Love Without Fulfillment (Intro)
06. Vowels = Space and Time
07. Visiting Statue
08. Be a Body
09. Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus) feat. Doldrums
10. Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)
11. Nightmusic feat. Majical Cloudz
13. Know the Way (Outro)
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