Claire Boucher, who goes by the stage name of Grimes, is the latest “buzz band,” to use an outdated term to describe new talked about artists. Her sound is chilly and treble kicked with an emphasis on synthesizers and nasally vocals.
When Boucher sings, her lows are where most female singers’ highs are, and her highs are at nearly unconscionable levels, sounding almost cartoonish in their execution. Her abilities as a vocalist would mean zilch if she didn’t know where to put it, but luckily she takes her voice and wraps it around melodies that if slowed down and thrown over some bass, might not sound out of place sung by Janet Jackson.
Musically however, Grimes’s third album, “Visions” is light years away from the 1990s. With the exception of maybe ”Be a Body,” that has a spaced out keyboard line that sounds pulled from a Real McCoy record, Grimes finds most of her influences for her arrangements from the recesses of Krautrock’s past. While her first two albums, “Halifaxa” and “Geidi Primes,” messed around more with experimental sounds that would occasionally morph into rhythmic transes like on the former’s “Sagrad ???????????”, “Visions” is her most straightforward album to date.
Boucher’s strength as a songwriter could be heard on her split EP with d’Eon, “Darkbloom” which came out in the summer of 2011, most particularly on “Vanessa,” that showed greatly her knack for bridging the worlds between R&B and the Cocteau Twins. “Visions” delivers on the promise of that song, albeit in a sometimes frustrating manner.
Opening with “Infinite Love Without Fulfillment,” the song is subtitled as an intro, which seems meant to excuse its minute and a half runtime, but its an alien sounding, soulful groove that should have been exploited for its full potential. The same goes for “Eight,” a cybertronic robot banger that if put in the hands of Skrillex or Zomboy, would have slammed the hell out your ears for a good four minutes. Grimes however is already out of it before hitting the two-minute mark — maybe a remix will save it from its near interlude status.
That isn’t to say all the best moments are trapped in short songs. “Genesis” manages to combine elements that feel wholly unrelated and make them hang naturally together. Its Kraftwwerk synths sound like Wendy Carlos’ contributions to “The Shining” soundtrack thrown through an arpeggiator, then met with a beat box that sounds like it’s trying to recreate the drumbeat from “My Sharona.” Outfit that with some rudimentary piano scales and a choir of Boucher’s voice, and you have “Visions’” most standout track.
Her vocals are often filling the most space on each song but she can still make clubby yet sparse tunes without it sounding thin. Take for instance “Circumambient,” which solidly holds down a beat over some paranoid synth strokes for a full sounding, urgent track. “Nightmusic” which features Majical Cloudz, likewise makes for a danceable experience with some caustic synths that bubble under Boucher’s lilting choruses.
Boucher hits paydirt with beats on the album when it meets the right hook, but her library could use some expansion. Her rhythms become a little tiresome in some of the album’s lesser songs like the mostly motionless pairing of “Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)” and “Symphonia IX (My Wait is U),” both which use her static percussion without progressing. The penultimate “Skin” tries to give the album a reflective moment near its end but sticks it out for too long.
Getting back to the album’s need for redivvying up song lengths, it would have been nice for the cleansing outro, “Know the Way,” to have traded some airtime with “Skin.” Its lovely, reverbed synth guitar plucks create a truly zen moment at the album’s conclusion, recalling the positive calm of “The Morning Fog” by Kate Bush, which gracefully closes out her “Hounds of Love” album.
Grimes knows how to find the medium between avant garde and pop, which is why her appeal has been rapidly growing with each song she releases. She pulls listeners from both ends of the spectrum and makes them hear things they would usually turn away from. “Visions” at many times sounds like its going to make the plunge into full-on synthpop, yet always draws back into ambient darkness before giving into temptation. It makes one wonder what she would do if she fully let go into either world, but for right now, this record is a good place for her to be.