Claire Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, is a Canadian multimedia artist primarily known for her music. She has released four albums to critical acclaim, most recently “Art Angels”, a work that was named the best album of 2015 by numerous publications, most notably NME and Stereogum. She also happens to be one of my very favorite artists on the planet.
So, when I received her newest album “Miss Anthropocene” on vinyl a whole 17 days earlier than the official release date of Feb. 21, it would be a very large understatement to say I was excited. I promptly slapped the bad boy onto my record player and proceeded to listen to it at least ten times during the following week. This weekend provided me the ample time I needed to gather my thoughts on it, and subsequently share them here with you.
Now, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I know Grimes on a personal level, or that I know much about making music like this on a technical level. However, I do know that I have a deep love for music, and a pretty long list of “things I’ve listened to.”
So, because of that, I feel comfortable telling you that this album is very, very good. Grimes had made some of my favorite music of the last decade and this album will probably end up being my favorite of her works.
This album sounds completely different from her previous work, sounding as if her music had somehow become tainted. Components of her older works still remain, however.
For example, the tricks she uses to create the deep, atmospheric feel she’s known for can still be found here, but all the while the album has moments that sound completely foreign and unlike anything she’s made before. It gives this album the ever sought after feeling you look for in any new work. Growth. This is something lost in many other artists’ after their rise to fame, so to see it in Grimes’ fifth album is, for lack of a better word, awesome.
Leading up to the album’s release, a handful of singles had been dropped that helped give me, and any fan of hers, an idea of what was to come. If you aren’t a fan or simply haven’t heard them, you need to know going in that this album is heavy, in pretty much every aspect.
This album is all about “Miss Anthropocene,” the space dwelling goddess of global warming who wants nothing but the destruction of humanity. Her name, in fact, is a pun, a combination of “misanthrope,” someone who cares not for people and “anthropocene,” the geological time period in which humans have actively changed the climate. So, yeah, pretty heavy.
The tracks included are Grimes’ attempt (and success) to portray the rise and making of this goddess, in a way reminiscent of a supervillian’s origin story. These tracks focus on individual things that, when put together, spell the end for humanity. When you combine that with the slightly nu-metal inspired, deep atmospheric production, you get something that is, like I’ve said three times now, heavy.
Because each track has a different theme, it’s appropriate to go through each individually instead of speaking about the album in general terms. I will attempt to avoid spoiling your listening experience, but consider this a warning. If you want to go into the album knowing as little about it as possible, this review could potentially spoil some moments for you.
The album begins with the aptly named “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth”. The track reminded me of Mac Demarco’s song “Here Comes the Cowboy” in the way that both are simple and feel as if they are placed at the beginning of the tracklist to introduce you to the sound the album will have.
If I were to guess what the track is truly about, I’d say it may have something to do with oil and our use of it. Images surrounding the album depict the titular character made of or perhaps simply covered in oil, a substance found deep within the earth. Mostly, though, it’s meant to get you in the mindset for the album sonically.
“Darkseid” is, from what I can gather, about how we as a people no longer move our bodies, and yet still have unrest in our souls. This is in reference to the Internet and its ever-growing presence in society. The track is mostly made up of Mandarin vocals, sung by featured artist Aristophanes. In fact, the amount of Mandarin is so large that it makes up nearly 90% of the song. Those vocals could hold more clues to the true meaning of the track, but sadly, because I suck, I do not know Mandarin. Yet despite my personal shortcomings, I still do enjoy the song a decent amount.
The next track, “Delete Forever”, is about the opioid epidemic, and because of that the song is “a pretty big bummer,” according to Grimes. On the radio show Beats One, Grimes told host Zane Lowe she wrote the song on the night of rapper Lil Peep’s death, feeling disheartened by the abundance of artists taken away due to their struggles with mental health.
The song is noteworthy for its pace-changing acoustic guitar, helping it stand out sonically from the rest of the project. An acoustic-based track was something Grimes hadn’t tried in a while, so it was a surprise to be sure, but a welcome one.
“Violence”, track four, is about the abusive relationship finds Earth herself in with Humanity. In the song, Humanity treats Earth very poorly, but for some reason she still loves them. This relationship closely mirrors our very own reality, sadly. The track is by far the easiest to listen to on the album, which isn’t to say the others are hard to listen to, but more so that this feels closer to a “radio” song, with its catchy hook and infectious beat.
“4AM” reads, when coupled with the album’s theme, like it may be about sickness and smog, but I honestly don’t know for sure. I do know, however, that the song will be featured in the upcoming video game “Cyberpunk 2077”, because Grimes is a very cool person. This does give it a different feel to me, though. Something sounds slightly more…cyber? I don’t really know how to put it, and it could be because I know about the Cyberpunk connection, but that cyber feel is definitely there. Regardless, and much like every other track on the album, it’s enjoyable on some level.
“New Gods,” as described by Grimes on a podcast with Sean Carrol, is about what our culture reveres in this day and age, things like consumerism, technology, etc., things that, when not used responsibly, can lead to massive complications. The album artwork mirrors this, as it depicts the goddess Anthropocene painting herself while posing for a selfie. The song, sonically, is structured around a piano and, while it still sounds very much like a Grimes song, that piano structuring helps set it apart.
“My Name is Dark” is the song that the website Genius featured in its “Verified” series, where artists are brought in to explain a song and what it means. Because that is a thing that exists, I’m choosing to direct you there instead of explaining it myself, as Grimes does a better job explaining her work than I ever could. I will say, however, that this track is very, very good. Like, next level good. It feels raw yet infinitely refined. Cinematic yet personal. It haunts you with its borderline hypnotic production. These traits are seen in very few songs, which makes this one of the best tracks on the album.
“You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” is about suicide and is sung in a beautifully blunt fashion. Blunt in the way that the subject material tends to be, and beautiful in the way that it sounds beautiful. It also ironically may be the most upbeat sounding song on the whole album, which is no doubt a conscious creative choice.
If you’ve been in a dark place or are just generally edgy, you’ll love the track. If not, it may be too off-putting for you. I see this track being among people’s least favorite for that reason, but I enjoy it quite a bit. So far as to count it among my favorites of the album.
The final tracks play into each other, with “Before the Fever’’ being about the world’s end from Miss Anthropocene’s point of view (although it could be argued it is humanity’s) and “IDORU” from Earth’s. Essentially the destroyer and the destroyed’s perspectives are shown, and while that may not be some groundbreaking idea, I still found it to be pretty nifty.
Sonically, the tracks counter each other, with “Before the Fever” having a spacey, abstract, and downer vibe, and “IDORU” having a fast paced, victory lap feel to it. Having these tracks placed right at the end is a great way to finish the album, from an auditory and thematic standpoint.
This album’s lyrics, its concepts, and its production prove that Grimes is still growing and trying new things, which is a very commendable attribute for an artist as established as she is. Hopefully that growth will carry on far into the future. Sadly, with her pregnancy announcement last month, it is entirely reasonable for one to question whether or not she will even continue to make music.
Personally, I would love to see where she goes from here – the other social issues she could tackle, and the ways in which she could continue to adapt her sound. Regardless of whether or not this ends up being her last album, I can assure you that Grimes would be leaving us with her best work to date.
Header photo courtesy of Grimes’ Facebook page.