Grimes - Visions
The instinct is, rightly, to look at some of those track titles and run. We like pop music and we like it straightforward - not filtered through the smeared lens of irony or dressed up in unnecessary baggage. So first impressions of Grimes' third full length, from that quasi-hardcore punk artwork to those titles ('Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)' - c'mon, it's hardly 'I Should Be So Lucky') are more likely to have this listener reaching for the Febreze.
It's now three albums in as many years from the Canadian Claire Boucher, suggesting an admirable work rate in spite of some of the fancier affectations. Visions also surprises by being a much more fun listening experience than initial impressions would indicate, albeit one to soundtrack po-faced aftershows and catwalks rather than local Mecca dancefloors.
Let's not get too ahead of ourselves: most of the beats are simplistic, many of the tracks are built from not much more than random stabs at some Korg presets and Moog-y arpeggios. If 'alternative' music is in thrall to modern r'n'b and production, as we're so often told, the sonic evidence is paltry. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy may describe the intent of so much of the current indie and alt. scene but comparable ambition is mostly absent. Thankfully, Boucher's endearing Minnie Mouse vocals and basic understanding of the worth of a decent melody stop Visions from being just another soulless exercise in blank cool.
Not that it doesn't have its share of skippable tracks: 'Symphonia IX' nestles too close to some kind of Jean-Michel Jarre/Enya collaboration while the helium vocals of 'Eight' flirts with novelty - and not much else. And is there a vision, or more than one, as the title suggests? If there are answers they remain oblique, Boucher's half-squeaked, half-yelped phrasing drawing a veil over any real understanding.
And yet, when Visions strikes, it does so with an armour-piercing quality. 'Genesis' is all 70s futurism, shot through with a Kraftwerkian sense of momentum. 'Be A Body' is Zola Jesus let loose in the Paisley Park studios. 'Vowels = space and time' skips into view like a young, druggier Madonna; 'Visiting Statue', with its heady drums and vocal rounds hints at a more expansive format but ends at the two minute mark - before it can really pick up enough steam. But a pattern emerges: that itch is Grimes. She's under your skin. The faster-paced, driving-at-2am 'Nightmusic' has a sense of seduction that the likes of Ladytron have recently lacked, Boucher's pre-pubescent vocals continually unsettling any notion of sensuality. In spite of your reservations, this works.
Visions does everything it can to put off the curious. That - frankly ugly - sleeve and the pretentious track titles disguise the album's essential pop heart. Maybe that's the intent? Maybe Boucher wants to fuck us up a little, not just put a headshot on the sleeve and get some beautiful people in for the benefit of YouTube. Perhaps her vision is to get us look beyond what's in front of our eyes and give ugly a chance. Consider us duly humbled.