The Best Albums of 2015, #2

band012. Grimes, Art Angels (Crystal Math)

As much as I enjoyed Grimes’ 2012 album Visions, there was the lingering feeling that it all could have been a fluke. I was only cautiously optimistic about Claire Boucher’s future, and a big reason was that whenever I saw or read an interview with her, she was incapable of articulately explaining her music at all. Plus there was the time when she thought rafting down the Mississippi river with live chickens and 20 pounds of potatoes was a good idea. The music she made was brilliant, but it also felt that she wasn’t altogether there. Just how bright is this young woman? Scrapping a completed album last year didn’t help, either, hinting that she might have been succumbing to the pressure of recording a follow-up to a breakthrough album. The more I contemplated it, though, the more I started to wonder if Boucher is more of a savant when it comes to music. Her songwriting and production is very idiosyncratic, and you can easily tell that it’s less carefully thought-out than merely instinctive. Grimes has music to make, and this is what pours out. It may be weird, it may lack consistency, but a song like “Oblivion” will win you over in a heartbeat. It’s Art Angels, that long-awaited follow-up, however, that has me seriously wondering if we have a genius in our midst after all. It’s not just a step forward for Boucher; it’s astonishing leap in every way. Although it sounds like she has embraced pop music on Art Angels, and that’s been a very common refrain among some critics, the reality (realiti?) is that her songwriting skills have advanced so much, her melodies and production are so innately appealing that it’s lapped pop music. You can bet this record will be the benchmark for pop, both indie and mainstream, for the next few years. There has never been a pop album like this one. You hear elements of so many musical influences that it can be dizzying trying to sort them all out, but it’s astounding how everything, the whole eclectic shebang, has been harnessed, and it’s here where that genius comes into play. Claire Boucher puts on the air of being flighty, of being a fashionista, a renaissance woman, an icon for attention span-deficient millennials, but in the music you hear such authoritative command of her art. How she came up with all these sonic ideas, all these glorious hooks, and mashed them together so seamlessly and simply is beyond me, and all I can do is listen in awe, again and again. There’s the juxtaposition of ebullience and sadness on “California”, with its sumptuous vocal harmonies. The playful “Flesh Without Blood”. The acoustic guitar-driven shuffle of “Belly of the Beat”. The vibrant Happy Mondays feel of “Artangels”. The futuristic art pop of “Realiti” and “Venus Fly”, the latter featuring Janelle Monáe, who’s a perfect match for Grimes. And the phenomenal “Kill V. Maim”, a weird dance rock banger that’s one of the boldest tracks of the year. This isn’t just a follow-up, it’s a stunning, uncompromising, innovative statement by a major, major talent. Art Angels will go down as one of the defining albums of the 2010s. (Spotify) (YouTube)