Since the release of her breakthrough 2012 album, Visions, Claire Boucher has become somewhat of a mythmaker (Skinny Puppy reference intended). Last year, she shelved an album's worth of Grimes material and hesitantly released a divisive single, promising that the best was yet to come — and that's on top of all the Tumblr heroics she performed defending her craft. Now, we finally have the fourth Grimes album, which finds Boucher indulging her lofty ambitions and making good on all the promise she's shown over the years.
Boucher has insisted that she regards Art Angels as her debut album proper, and you can hear why: This is a wildly resourceful and confident album, written, performed, engineered and produced entirely by Boucher. Though she has denied any real aspirations for pop stardom, there are some real contenders here for the Top 40.
First single "Flesh Without Blood" flies in with a chugging riff and thumping rhythm to confront and dismiss Internet accusations that she's trying to cash in by going pop. At the other end of the spectrum is "California," a beautiful paradox in which she drops confused lyrics about struggling to feel accepted over an undeniable hook, some guitar twang and a springy beat. It's borderline EDM country, but an absolute banger, and it deserves to be a crossover hit. If you close your eyes and imagine it, the cherubic dance pop of "Artangels" could have easily fit on chart-aiming albums by Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen.
But Grimes' tendencies are far too alien and singular to fully adhere to mainstream-friendliness. She plays the weirdo as much as the hit maker on both "Kill V. Maim" and "Scream," featuring Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes, as she embraces an aggressive, screamo-infused side we've never heard from her before. Even "REALiTi," which she originally released online in demo form and tried not to include here, sounds idyllically spectral and like a buffed-up outtake from Halfaxa. To throw everyone off, she also winds the album down with a lingering acoustic ballad called "Life in the Vivid Dream," a title that describes the record's overall feel.
Art Angels was worth every second of the wait. Whether it makes a dent in the mainstream like so many people have predicted or not is beside the point. Grimes has given us a complete record that's everything pop should be in 2015: utterly uncompromising, imaginative and, somehow, universally accessible. (4AD)