Art Angels opens with a plucky chamber-pop number named Laughing and Not Being Normal, filled out by sweeping strings and a brief, operatic vocal part. It’s swift and beautiful, and the classical bent puffs up the album from the beginning, staking a claim of significance and heralding an arrival. The arrival, obviously, is the new Grimes: lean, focused, and ready to claw for top spot in the pantheon of brilliant misfits. But the rest of Art Angels makes it clear there was never going to be much of a fight. Grimes slays any naysayers with one of 2015’s best albums.
To call it pop is too simplifying. But Art Angels is relentlessly catchy. It’s a unicorn in the sense that it manages to be both a fierce, uncompromising creative statement and appealing on a mass level simultaneously. On top of that, it’s far more than the sum of its parts, cohesively bound and deftly avoiding pop’s tendency toward loose collections of singles. While Grimes is endlessly chameleonic, Claire Boucher’s brilliant production and singular process has made sure that the diverse group of songs always complement each other.
Her knack for an excellent (but often fleeting) hook doesn’t hurt, either. The get-up-and-go kiss-off anthem Flesh Without Blood, demented cheerleading of Kill V. Maim, and breezy, defeatist California are all instantly memorable. She’s just as capable of slowing things down, with tracks like Easily and the gorgeous, stormy Life in the Vivid Dream. And the two special guests – Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes and Prince-approved electric lady Janelle Monáe – shine in SCREAM and Venus Fly, respectively.
Boucher herself has come out to claim her music as genre-less, but the Art Angels incarnation of Grimes is through-and-through Frankenstein pop, influenced by so many irresistible sounds – K-pop, house, cutting edge electronic, classic rock and power-pop, even – smashed together, somehow coming out just the right way. In interviews, Boucher often seems confrontational, as if she has to defend herself at all times, and maybe so far that’s been the case. But by triumphant, blissed-out finale Butterfly, it’s hard not to feel like the fight is over. Art Angels is a major victory for deep weird.
Top Track: Kill V. Maim
Grimes brings her Rhinestone Cowgirls Tour to the Danforth Music Hall with Nicole Dollanganger on Nov. 22.