(Arbutus/No Pain in Pop; 2010/2011)
By Jessica Faulds | 15 May 2010
Myspace sure has changed, and not just because of all the virtual tumbleweed blowing across it. The site is purportedly a vehicle for musicians to self-market, pushing their projects into the Google-ability, and thus existence. Yet, as Grimes’ minimally abstract page demonstrates, bands no longer necessarily care about informing you. A few years ago, “emerging” artists—for our purposes defined as any band with a name sometimes followed by the bracketed and damning phrase “looking for shows”—carefully constructed the most lucid and professional online press kits the site’s template would allow, dangling buzzwords and contacts like carrots for wandering reps. But now that tying yourself to a label is something like jumping aboard a ship with a punctured hull, the Myspace page aesthetic has shifted, becoming a neon-sparkling flip-off to so-called legitimacy. Instead of displaying lyrics and biographies polished to a high shine and fully accessible in Times New Roman, band sites have become dumping grounds for splattered animated gifs, inside jokes, and sarcastic genre headings (“two-step” and “dramatic popular song” apparently leading the way in the new music revolution). In short, there’s not much hope of finding out much about an artist from what you see on the screen. Instead, it’s all in the speakers—an irritating virtue, because while the focus is actually where it should be, your monitor will blow away a few million rods and cones before you figure out the who and how behind a particularly haunting sound.
Grimes’ profile bypasses the maximalist approach but remains oblique. Some mirror-image photos, sparkly butterflies, song files, and that’s it. With careful clicking, here’s all we know: Grimes is Claire Boucher, a Montreal-based musician and visual artist…
But take a few listens, and there’s so much more: …who makes music out of all sorts of unwieldy found and original sounds, rendering them into creepy, otherworldly mid-tempo weirdo-pop that takes on a lot but manages to pull its own weight. Every song save one clocks in under four minutes, and though the samples and breathy vocal layers seem to float free, the relentless shuffling of the drum machine hardly ever stops. Grimes’ Myspace home cheekily labels her genre simply as “Grime,” and despite the joke this is actually a fair description. Geidi Primes is music you’d expect to come bubbling up out of dark, dirty water. The extreme low-register undulating that opens “Caladan” is as much felt as heard. It’s a sound pushed down beyond pitch and into seismic rumbling, a sort of indescribable palpating. Boucher has created music that feels like she’s pushed her finger into your chest cavity and is wiggling it around.
To some, this might not sound very pleasant. Chillwave it’s not. But if you’d rather see the bottom of a crevasse than another postage-stamp seashore, you’ll find many rewards in these eleven short tracks. The winding melodies and slightly off-kilter samples play off of one another to create eerily beautiful popscapes. The vocals come straight through the nose, the beats alternately scritch and stomp, and the delay sounds like it’s coming out of a wet cave, with occasional stalactitic arms of blatant electronicism reaching down and wobbling the otherwise steady-going shuffle. And while the tempos are fairly static, this is an album of texture, with samples hammered into place just far enough to leave some raised edges. It’s something to run your fingers over rather than fully grasp.
If you want me to quit with hand-wringing, stick an iron in the fire, and brand this thing so you can shuffle it along and swallow down the rest of your daily web sustenance without chewing, you might as well dodge this album entirely. because it’s like the urban myth about bubble gum: it takes a while to digest. Which is largely a good thing, though at times it gets to be kind of a slog. While “Feyd Rautha Dark Heart” and “avi” maintain the trend toward singular melodies, beats, and sounds, placed next to one another on the album, their parallel motifs eddy against one another without forward thrust, resulting in mid-album stagnation. Thankfully, standouts like “Rosa” (the album’s top contender for hit single) and “Gambang” change gears, breaking out different tones and textures and knocking all the cloudy debris into the undertow.
Of course, when, like veins of silver, artists like Grimes are suddenly unearthed, it’s difficult not to pass quickly from appreciation to speculations about refinement. It’s clear that Grimes has a lot of “promise” and “potential,” but these are belittling words, ultimately. The future probably holds good things for Grimes, and those butterflies on her Myspace page: well, you know where this metaphor is going. But she has too much right-hereishness and right-nowism to start thinking about the future. The future, after all, is uncertain. Boucher could collapse into her own echo-spirals, or just get run down in the blasé Montreal traffic. Best to appreciate what we already have: a pretty great album. It’s one we should take a rare, zen-inflected moment to savour, forfeiting the ulcerous attempts to visualize the artist’s future canon to some other scenester. We’ll sit this one out, leave the wobbly-legged exploration to Grimes herself, and enjoy not knowing what’s coming next.