“Art Angels” By Grimes is Special, Weird Mermaid Music


When you first hit play on Grimes’ new release, Art Angels, you can tell right away that this is a different kind of album. The first track, “laughing and not being normal,” tiptoes out slowly, with classical violins and operatic vocals. What is this, a ballet? Am I in Swan Lake here? But no, this is Grimes, she of indie soprano scat and iridescent hair. Her music is weird but not dadaist – we played it at work so often that I listed it as the office dog’s “favorite music” on her office dog bio.

Grimes’ last album, Visions, was whispery and rhythmic, a good album for writing to while drinking La Croix, flavor: pomplemousse. But Art Angels is something else, something possibly Album of the Year-worthy, or at least Pitchfork Best New Music-worthy. It’s the kind of album that will make Grimes a Big Deal, at least amongst the type of people who enjoy clutching a bizarre indie record close to their heart before the Grammys awkwardly invites it into a medley.

Once we get past her classical intro, we’re shot into “California,” an upbeat tune with radio-friendly pop-iness, but at a slant. “When you get bored of me I’ll be back on the shelf,” Grimes sings, her voice in a fairly normal register before jetting up into helium-land once again.

Following that, she changes things up again with “SCREAM – Aristophanes.” For a second I thought that Grimes was rapping in Chinese, which would be yet another surprising skillset to come from this “maven” (no one says that word out loud, but music reviewers cannot live without it). But no, it’s Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes. “SCREAM” feels like a track from a Tarantino movie, in a good way.

Other notable tracks: “Belly of the Beast,” an energetic, chanty tune recalls the era when Gwen Stefani discovered Japan, but with Paul McCartney-esque guitars. “Kill vs. Maim” juxtaposes her sugar-sweet vocals with some good old-fashioned screaming and growling. It feels like if one of the light-as-a-feather lady players from a kung-fu video game wrote a murder anthem. “Artangels” is a syrupy jam that Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens could totally get down to on sprang brock. “Venus Fly” features Janelle Monáe chanting “Why you lookin’ at me again?” before the two ladies slam dunk things into what might make a very exciting song for a car chase. (And it ends with a violin!)

It’s hard to list notable songs on this album because the whole thing is so interesting/good. I like it so much I’ve been listening to it almost constantly since it came out. It’s the kind of album Lady Gaga might write if she new how to write music as weird as her outfits. It’s also what I picture might happen if Yoko Ono made an album with The Dirty Projectors. If that idea delights rather than horrifies you, you’ll love “Art Angels.” You’ll also like it if you like the following artists: Braids, Bjork, Ponytail, FKA Twigs and Sleigh Bells.

Art Angels is a lot of things, but there’s a red thread running through the whole thing that ties it all together. It’s a road trip of pop weirdness – it kinda feels like reading the journal of an amazing mermaid on a quest for revenge. I give it nine office dogs out of ten.