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Grimes - Visions

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Artist: Grimes

Album: Visions

Label: 4AD

Review date: Feb. 20, 2012

Late last year, writing for Cluster Magazine, Alexis Stephens traced the founding myths of the new micro-genre known as seapunk. Less a sound than a vibe and a thematic interest in the oceanic — or rather, in digital representations of the oceanic, manifested in “SEGA’s Ecco the Dolphin and Sonic the Hedgehog, 3D screensavers, Lisa Frank, rave culture” — seapunk, both as a theme and as a pathway between musical styles, represents, for Stephens, something of a “re-infus[ion of] the natural world into the screens and speakers we humans use to connect to each other.”

The producer Claire Boucher, who performs as Grimes, recently cited seapunk in a piece about her favorite “lost album” for NME. She admires Aqua’s 1997 Aquarium for its strong production and its crowd-pleasing qualities, and muses that seapunk is, essentially, an opportunity to revivify Aqua: both are partially-joking, danceable, aquatic.

Boucher’s work belongs to the world (an e-world) where nature-as-GMail-avatar and “Barbie Girl” conjoin. Reviewers and interviewers ceaselessly quote Grimes’ self-description as “post-Internet,” but Grimes is precisely of the Internet. Her new album, Visions, sounds like a danceable, well-curated Tumblr, nostalgic in its influences but unmistakably of the current.

Some kind of half-baked user-generated-content metaphor strikes me as apt for her vocals, which are perhaps her signature. Boucher has a tremendous range, which she employs both altered and unaltered (though the difference is occasionally hard to pinpoint) as instrumentation as much as a lead element. On the album’s most successful track, “Be A Body,” she sings in ah-ahs what a listener would normally expect to be a synth hook. That it’s Boucher’s voice instead makes both an aesthetic and a thematic difference; in the song’s lyrics, she experiences her own corporeality (“I touch my face with my hands”) even as she turns her vocals into an instrument, using something human to sound like something digital to make an utterly digital-sounding song about being human.

The Internet is really into the ’90s these days, and Boucher’s music is no exception. “Circumambient” could have stolen its melody, with its upper register excursions and coos of “oh baby” from a lost Mariah Carey track. It’s all delayed and chopped up and layered over an instrumental line that has one mood-shifting, dark note. I have hummed the melody of the following song, “Vowels = space and time,” over and over to try and figure out what half-remembered J.Lo bridge it evokes (no success so far). In general, Visions maintains a much more consistent party vibe than Grimes’ previous records, Halifaxa and Geidi Primes, though on “Skin” it veers into a lovely, bare, melancholic moment more reminiscent of those albums and even of the big Enya-esque harmonic builds of peers like Glasser and Julianna Barwick.

Visions sounds like now, exactly now. There are tracks I will hear at a party and over the sound system at Topshop and will experience organically, as though they are natural outgrowths of this moment in time in a big city. Though it’s well produced and confident, and goes deep into its web of influence, it seems so rooted in this moment that it feels transitory. It’s hard to say whether Grimes would want it to stand up over time; it seems inevitable that Boucher’s sound will evolve as the tides of trends and technologies shift.

By Talya Cooper

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