By: Jack Stein
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“No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative…it gets the people going!”
While that little Stepbrothers-indebted diatribe (famously employed by capital-P Provocateurs Jay-Z & Kanye West on last year’s “Niggas in Paris”) may have been used as the exclamation point for Ye’s grin-inducing bar about “going gorillas”, it could just as easily serve as a summation of the obnoxious genre titles that have been constructed in the past decade. As the rise of the Internet produced a fragmented landscape of sonic habitats in the early 2000’s, artists and listeners alike sought out their own niches to inhabit; unfortunately, ridiculous new subgenre titles followed to the chagrin of linguists everywhere. From “freak folk” to “chill wave” with countless stops in between, one’s iTunes genre list often resembles a perverse game of Mad Libs, with little regard for artistic integrity or even the artists themselves (what if Washed Out is not, in fact, a chill bro?) In our desperate attempts to categorize everything we listen to, we have essentially created a new language that attempts to mean everything and actually means nothing at all.
As such, when the breathless advance praise of emerging Montreal artist Grimes (born Claire Boucher) started to trickle out on a myriad of music blogs towards the end of last year, I found myself wanting to cover my ears due to the barrage of genre gibberish that followed. “Post-Internet!” “Electro-retro-future-pop!” “Cyborg-diva-experimentalism!” Enough, already. Fortunately, once I put all stubbornness aside, I discovered a truly singular artist for whom it isn’t appropriate at all to award such meaningless tags or shortsighted synopses of her sound. On her upcoming LP Visions, Boucher unleashes a maelstrom of beautiful, pure pop filtered through the lens of the past while still sounding a bit like the future…whatever the fuck that means (alas, even the best of us fall prey to such feeble attempts at categorization.)
On Visions, Grimes creates a world of stark contrasts that end up working in perfect harmony. The warmness of her cooing, girlish vocals brushes shoulders with icy & inhuman soundscapes recalling Silent Shout or even later-era Aphex Twin (a purported influence of her sound.) Her nearly unintelligible lyrics prove extremely cryptic, while the yearning frailty of her voice and the estrogen-infused rush of the pounding backbeats hint at a heightened emotional state for Boucher; at times, the 23-year old seems as anguished and frantic as a hormonal teenager.
Fortunately for us, those potentially off-putting juxtapositions make for one hell of a record, with the second track “Genesis” serving as the clear highlight. A perfect summation of Grimes’ current sound, an icy wall of synths builds ominously before we are treated to an exceptional vocal performance from Boucher, finding her turning on a dime from diva-esque howling to girlish pleas, sounding not unlike Madonna in her heyday. The pulsing backbeat serves to heighten the tension and adds to the song’s frantic immediacy; while the lyrics are tough to make out, Boucher clearly is feeling something. What is truly refreshing is that her need for emotional release is paired with an innate ability to parlay it into incredibly interesting, forward-thinking and genuinely infectious music, a combination all too rare within contemporary pop. For an artist that’s clearly going places and whose unique approach refuses to be categorized, give this track (and all of Visions) a listen.