Canadian pop artist Grimes broke out in a big way with her 2012 album, “Visions.” On the back of extraordinary singles like “Genesis,” and especially the instant classic “Oblivion,” Grimes, armed with a MacBook and Garageband software, was suddenly one of the the biggest names in indie pop. For me though, I really like “Genesis” andĀ loveĀ “Oblivion,” “Visions” just didn’t excite as a full length. I felt that Grimes’s spacy, distant, and pretty intangible brand of synth pop got really boring really fast. Her best songs were created when she had more concrete and memorable song ideas, but most of “Visions” was pretty meandering and didn’t offer up good, catchy pop music. However, I still held out hope for Grimes, considering that she was more than capable of writing a great song, and that hope paid off, as “Art Angels” is a pretty sizeable improvement.

Since 2012, it’s clear that Grimes has gone through many stylistic changes. While her older sound was dreamy, lo-fi, and very 80’s inspired, this album is pretty much the complete opposite. Never before has Grimes sounded this up-front with her melody, vocals, and production, and if you ask me, this is for the better. This means that her songs here are more memorable and tangible, which is what I tend to want in my pop music. There’s no “Oblivion” here, but there are many more highlights than on “Visions.” Songs like “California,” “Kill V. Maim,” “Flesh Without Blood,” and “World Princess Part II” are delightfully catchy and fun, with instantly memorable melodies, and up-front, driving, and busy production. To many, this would seem like Grimes is dumbing down her previously abstract style of songwriting, but to me, it’s just strengthening it. While the songs are more straight-up, they still march to the beat of their own drum. “Kill V. Maim” features a really eccentric vocal performance and lyrics about a time traveling mobster (who’s a vampire), and also contains a cheerleader-chant hook with the lyrics,

“B-E-H-A-V-E aggressive,

Tell me I’m a mobster looking so fresh, uh.”

This song carefully toes the line between annoying and fun, but ultimately the latter wins out, as this track is simply too catchy to ignore. A lot of the other songs here are equally as unique, like the dance-able “Venus Fly” featuring Janelle Monae, who contributes a really sticky chanted hook. There is also the track “SCREAM,” which is a bit of fiery Taiwanese hip-hop, featuring verses from rapper Aristophanes. For me, this song didn’t go over all that well, but it’s still an interesting experiment. Probably the most “generic” song here, for lack of a better word, is “Flesh Without Blood,” but that’s not really a problem when it’s such a well-written pop song.

So there are some great songs here, but “Art Angels” is still a somewhat spotty album. For every catchy and memorable song here, there is also one that just doesn’t get it done. Because the sound on this record is so up-front, if the melody on a song isn’t strong, there’s nothing to distract from that, so the song becomes instantly un-enjoyable. This is the case with “Belly of the Beat,” “Artangels,” “Easily,” “Pin,” “Butterfly,” and surprisingly, “Realiti.” Despite that being one of Grimes’s most acclaimed songs, I’ve just never been able to get into it, whether it be the demo version or the cleaned up one that’s on here, for the exact reason I said above.

“Art Angels” is a wonderful step in a direction I’ve been wanting Grimes to go in for a while. It’s not perfect, but with so many infectiously catchy songs, it’s hard not to enjoy.

 

3.5 stars

 

Standout Tracks: “California” “Flesh Without Blood” “Kill V. Maim” “World Princess Part II” “Venus Fly”

 

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