The first track of Grimes’s latest, Art Angels, ‘Laughing And Not Being Normal’, is a beautiful cascade of instrumental introduction to the album.
Art Angels is her own Dark Twisted Fantasy perhaps, but with a ‘weird’ thrown in there as well – ‘super weird, twisted weird fantasy of weirdness’ perhaps. There’s no need for the ‘dark’, Art Angels is too bright for that, too much fun.
Second track, ‘California’ shows clear influence from the mainstream pop Grimes has always openly loved. She’s a belieber, and likes Taylor Swift and Mariah Carey. Now residing in Los Angeles, Art Angels was recorded in Grimes’s home studio, where sunshine must have been pouring in every window by the sounds of the album.
Thanks to her genuine weirdness though, Grimes’s pop has a few extra layers under its bubble. Track ‘Pin’ for example, has all the tropes of a mainstream pop song – reminiscing on fun nights with best friends- except Grimes’s lyrics are “Drunk in a parking lot, just after three. Tearin’ out your hair like a banshee” instead.
You can imagine a group of girls blasting Art Angels while cruising in a pink convertible in the early 2000s, or any track would fit easily on the next Hayao Miyazaki film soundtrack. Playing from portable speakers while having some pre or post party drinks in a parking lot will probably be how it is most enjoyed though.
Grimes’s weirdness is still confined to ‘alternative’, as far as cataloguing her in pop culture, and as each song plays on Art Angels, it is hard not to laugh harder and harder at how silly trying to pin her to a genre is. Especially as each “Ooh Baby” that Grimes croons on ‘Realiti’ comes out like Mariah Carey delighting her MTV Unplugged audience.
The Internet has all but depleted any reason to not assume every new artist is a mish-mash of a thousand visual and musical influences too. Early on Grimes was called Seapunk and Witchhouse, and she rightly only thought the latter was close to anything she was creating musically. Anyone born in the late 80s to the beginning of the 2000s could be into Marilyn Manson just as much as Joy Division, and still fervently love Missy Elliott. Grimes’s weirdness really just comes from trying to contain all these influences.
Is she even weird though? Not anymore than any girl whose life is captured via Instagram; at exhibition openings for free drinks or crying with laughter and posing outside a 7-11 at 2am. Grimes is just a productive artist. In today’s social media landscape that is still as weird as anyone prone to hibernating and meditating in support of artistic expression. Pop still hasn’t wholly embraced the method, but Grimes is proof the genre can be textured and transcend being content fodder for endless scrolls of your Tumblr dashboard.
The musician cameos on Art Angels are not at first listen the albums strongest tracks, but track 12 ‘Venus Fly’, which features RnB artist Janelle Monae, is more welcome overt attitude that first shows itself on track 3 with Taiwanese artist Aristophanes.
Having grown up with a lot of Korean, Japanese and Chinese influence in her hometown, Grimes is bringing welcome attention to the music of artists like Aristophanes that otherwise only truly alternative artists like Dirty Beaches once made. It’s not so much refreshing as gratifying, especially when the Internet supposedly has the power to naturally bring attention to more diverse artists.
As Grimes has said though, to be into her you kind of already have to be open to music you’re not used to hearing, and she’s certainly doing her bit for your possible musical education.
Art Angels is out now via 4AD/ Remote Control