Review Summary: Always down when I'm not up, guess it's just my rotten luck.
Grimes has always been an acquired taste. What has unfortunately defined her career over the five years since Art Angels
catapulted her into the pop stratosphere she’s been so conflicted about since bobbing down the Mississippi all those years ago, however, has been how much outside forces have enhanced that image. Yet while the deconstruction of first her persona and then her private person in the press, and the predictable fetishization of Grimes as that tired old female trope – the difficult, nasty woman – have all contributed to Grimes’ divisiveness, it’s Claire Boucher’s seemingly willful inability to see how she arrived in this predicament that is most telling. There’s a certain inherent naivete Boucher seems to give off, a self-aggrieved streak that ignores unforced errors like the Zola Jesus/Devon Welsh “silicon valley fascist propaganda” dustup that she can’t avoid, a nasty social media habit where absurd positions are staked and just as commonly retracted days if not hours later, and the woeful lack of preparedness and/or self-awareness that seems to accompany everything associated with he-who-shall-not-be-named. “The things they see in me, I cannot see myself,” may have been too prescient. Art Angels
brilliantly highlighted the conflicts between Grimes’ fast-rising star, the expectations that came with it, and Boucher’s reflexive vitriol at it all. Paradoxically, the problems she confronted and vanquished on that record only intensified afterwards. It’s a cruel joke that the person who once said “I really hate being in front of people, but I’m also obsessed with being a pop star” now finds herself in the worst of both worlds: a mainstream mainstay, photographed by magazines who know her as a public figure first and a musician fifth, tenth, or not at all; meanwhile, shunned by a press and fanbase for distorting and then throwing away their wishes and expectations.
Into this mess comes Miss Anthropocene
, a record that emerged after two-and-a-half years of fits and starts, label conflicts and public relations spats, and more incoherent mission statements than a Kevin Barnes press tour. The hilariously half-baked thesis for this record, climate change anthropomorphized into a vengeful goddess (“she’s naked all the time and she’s made out of ivory and oil” – subtle!), is largely a concept for the sake of having a concept and something Grimes probably enjoys using to fu
ck with people in interviews. There are a few half-hearted attempts to further this theme, in which the industrial-pop miasma of “Before the Fever” and extended eco-disaster metaphor “Violence” fare the best (the latter’s throbbing Balearic beat provides one of the record’s most enjoyable moments, in a lizard-brain sort of way). One listen to “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth,” though, in which Grimes basically goes to hell because of her love, and Miss Anthropocene
reveals itself as something infinitely simpler: Claire Boucher, trying to come to terms with how and why she ended up here, on the dark side of fame.
As a portrait of humanity at its worst, Miss Anthropocene
is a rich text. Confronted with the narrative that she’s losing control of her career, Grimes has turned in her tightest, darkest record, one that excises the spiraling hyperactivity of Art Angels
into a coiling, cold ball of fury. Far from the global chimera of climate change, Miss Anthropocene’s
most prominent demons are uncomfortably personal. On “4AM” and “My Name Is Dark,” she loses herself in self-destruction and “imminent annihilation,” substances and strange men, the former’s whiplash change from ethereal hashish trip to e-charged drum ‘n bass racket a particularly confusing yet compelling trip down the rabbit hole. “Delete Forever” considers the opioid crisis in sobering detail, juxtaposed against the brightest melody of her career, a plastered-on smile necessary to get through the grief. Throughout her vocals remain largely unintelligible, much more so than on Art Angels
, whether drowned in echo on “New Gods” or smeared across “IDORU’s” rainbow of sound. When they do come through, they tend to make a point: “You’ll miss me when I’m not around” is self-explanatory, Grimes reverting to original AIM-away-messaging; that haunting chorus coming in on an alien wavelength on “Darkseid.” Particularly barbed is that one motif that keeps peeking out of the crushing, crashing metallic surf of “My Name Is Dark”: “that’s what the drugs are for.”
takes everything about Grimes the musician – her uncanny ability to build a song out of parts no one ever thought to put together before, that idiosyncratic voice, her ear for a classic melody – and concisely packages it into her most penetrating record yet. That’s the beautiful dichotomy of Grimes, equal parts stressful, grating, and difficult, yet also powerful, incisive, and illuminating. There’s no naivete apparent here; Miss Anthropocene’s
deeply personal, emotionally complicated nature proves Boucher can still cut through the bullsh
it when she wants to. Bleak and endlessly fascinating, it’d be an essential but tough listen if not for “IDORU,” a lovely sunburst of a bookend that attempts to sweep away all those thunderheads in seven minutes of bliss. The imagery may be a little heavy – there’s literally birds chittering away as the metaphorical sun rises – but Grimes has rarely been subtle. The perfect capstone to the preceding storms, “IDORU” seems to say humanity may still be up in the air, there’s still hope for Claire Boucher after all.