Grimes’ 2012 album, “Visions,” arrived to much fanfare despite the echoing electric contemplation it displayed, mostly due to its only single, “Genesis,” being a runaway hit. Grimes (aka Claire Boucher) has long-focused on making her music work as effective synth-pop and atmospheric dreampop without many frills and a lot of drum machines and keyboards. While both are already welcome additions to the genre, Grimes takes both to extremes on her album, “Art Angels.” The Canadian musician ditches most of the moodiness packed into her previous albums, becomes unabashedly pop, and in the process confuses as to why she was so revered in the first place.
Most of the tracks on the album are bursting with a repelling rather than attractive pop weirdness. Leaning heavily into this new direction seems to be Grimes’ favorite activity throughout the LP without retaining much of what makes her such an interesting addition to the modern dreampop landscape. Many of the ethereal sounds present on “Visions” are replaced with pounding bass beats and, strangely enough, guitar. What is lost is never actually found on “Art Angels,” and the venture becomes entirely determined to selling the listener on Grimes as a pop artist.
Many of the beats aren’t foreign to most ears, and can even be felt as similar to most of the structures in modern day pop music. The only difference between Grimes and her electro pop peers is her embrace of sporadic oddity throughout the album. Her eclectic use of guitar and baby-toned singing voice intercut with basic pop form is an amusing attempt at painting the tunes with a broad brush. This doesn’t seem to be her strong suit as heard on the fifth track “Belly of the Beat,” with its simple bass beat being backed by acoustic guitar seemingly leading to a bigger beat that never comes. “Pin” is an upbeat guitar-laden track that fails to sound complex or exciting with the melding of electronic and acoustic. This track sounds like something made in the late ‘90s but devoid of the intentional brightness of the era. The interplay between both instruments works, but both are too simple to create anything hugely impressive.
Grimes’ voice remains alluring, soft and the perfect sonic side dish to most of the music happening on the LP. Her voice is essentially another instrument, and it’s easily the most pleasing and well-realized one on “Art Angels.” It can reach those piercing high notes and sing along with beats impeccably. The album’s first single, “Flesh Without Blood,” has a driving chorus defined by her angelic screams, which is catchy from the song’s start to its finish.
Grimes’ voice rules over the piano-led track “Easily,” a short and vocally memorable tune that works as another weird snippet over the course of the mostly misguided instrument-focused pieces. Even as Grimes leans heavily on the dance-inspired beats here and there, a couple instances pop up that really work. “REALiTi” foregoes most of the instrumentation lamenting “Art Angels” for a foot-tapping bass, again mixed with careful vocals. Whenever Grimes showcases her voice, which is essentially on every track, it’s a highlight amongst the disappointing attempts to instill pop indulgence. While a noticeably peppy album, these brief glimpses of Grimes’ welcome spins on the pop genre are truly what make the album tolerable, albeit with imbalance.
“Art Angels” isn’t a major improvement on any of Grimes’ other work; it’s more so something she tried to tackle for the first time on her own. Each lyric she sings with fragility comes across as wonky along with the simplicity of guitar and refusal to become creative with the electronic style she fails to apply smoothly. Altering the problems could prove striking given Grimes’ obvious talent, but for the moment, “Art Angels” is a middling exercise in electro-pop.