Review Summary: Spacey, hypnotic parallel-universe pop, and so much more.
When Claire Boucher calls her music "post-Internet", she isn't just conjuring up some vague, trendy-sounding descriptor. No, Grimes - born of an age that grew up alongside the emojis of message boards and public confessionals of LiveJournal - really means it. And although Visions
, which Boucher considers a "real" debut, doesn't draw elements from web media as directly as, say, Elite Gymnastics' Ruin
, it is clearly the product of an imagination liberated by the Internet's catch-all quality. Sonically cohesive yet musically promiscuous, the album is Post
for the YouTube generation, establishing a solid artistic identity through - not in spite of - its inability to stay still.
This is what most sets Visions
apart from its predecessors. Both Geidi Primes
were solid releases, but their scatterbrained nature made for a strangely aimless listen; Boucher's good instincts and strong ideas shrouded by her well-crafted fog. Here, all that changes; the basslines slither about with propulsion and intent, the diverse beats click with almost-urgency, and Boucher's voice is layered on top. And oh, what a voice it is, girlishly alien and ageless in its high range and subtly expressive in more subdued moments. Like those of new labelmate Gang Gang Dance's frontwoman Lizzie Bougatsos, Boucher's pipes are chameleonic yet immediately distinguishable, a facet she uses great effect on songs like "Visiting Statue", which finds her voice serving as both a childlike chant and a more grounded force. When pitch-shifting, so ubiquitous as a shortcut to obnoxious faux-bot posturing, turns Boucher's vocals into tinny impersonality, as on the minimal "Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)", it's as if Grimes' universe is briefly only visible through a cracked window from a thousand unspecific units away. Or maybe as an ASCII drawing.
Which is to say that Visions
often feels suspended in the best way possible, both in time and space. The copious amounts of reverb augment this effect, but purposefully
(and artfully, but you already knew that), avoiding the detachment that screwed Ernest Greene over last year and the drab pleasantries of so much recent Balearic pop. The album's most thoughtful cut, "Skin", coats Boucher's voice in atmospherics and proceeds to compress the shit out of it, but towards its end, Boucher takes the detritus of her own voice and gives it a volume knob of its own. The byproduct
of the product becomes sentient; suddenly, to swim in vast pools of sound is not a hypnagogic experience but a visceral and joyful one. Studio magic no longer sets the aesthetic - it is
the aesthetic. And although Visions
feels too light (but not lightweight) to indicate intentions on Boucher's part to create a record of capital-S Significance, ignoring Visions
' considerable weight as a fully formed work of art discredits her achievement.
To take the irony-laden, eye-popping, knowingly shallow, and resolutely DIY philosophy defining All, Everyone, United and its ilk and imbue it with musical focus is no small feat. The whole worldview is there. Unabashed pop appreciation? Check. A penchant for outsider art? Yep - take a look at that album cover. But - this is crucial - these signifiers are just signifiers, not substitutes for the final product. Worldliness doesn't impress unless there is something of consequence to be said; the snippet of Mozart's Requiem
that opens "Nightmusic" grants the song no additional legitimacy. Visions
gets by (and then some) not on the strength of its trendily distracted tendencies, but by Boucher's natural gift for writing an earworm. So the occasionally affected touches (using Japanese characters for "humble simplicity" as a subtitle for the otherwise fantastic "Be A Body", calling the album's intro "Infinite ♡ Without Fulfillment") are forgivable offenses when considering the sheer effortlessness of the music. And although Boucher has made it quite clear that her words are not really designed to be heard, first single "Oblivion" neatly sums up the combination of nervousness and ecstasy that is the crux of her excellence: "I need someone now to look into my eyes and tell me girl you know you gotta watch your health." Both an assertive and cautious invitation, the line is indicative of a single essential fact: Grimes is not going to show her cards. Well, thank goodness for that.