Grimes Miss Anthropocene 4AD
Grimes is one of the few artists of the 21st century who has genuinely managed to avoid being pigeonholed. Her breakthrough album Visions established her as one of the most unique musicians in recent memory – an atmospheric composer with a masterful grasp of melody, like Björk raised on K-pop or Prince if he was really into gaming. Later, 2015’s Art Angels – a complex and ambitious album with production clean enough to do your make-up in – solidified her as one of the most talented polymaths of the decade.
The 2010s also oversaw Grimes’ transformation; from a jewel in the Montreal DIY scene who regularly updated her Tumblr and won a Juno Award with an album made on Garageband, to a global superstar called “c” whose current partner sits next to Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and Jeff Bezos on the Mount Rushmore of Big Tech. At a time when audiences have come to expect political engagement and relatability from celebrities, Grimes seems to be inching further out of reach, approaching art as an experimental process – a science – rather than a matter of personality. For better or worse, her only modern match in that regard is probably Kanye West.
“If I’m stuck being a villain, I want to pursue villainy artistically,” Boucher said in the interview for her Crack Magazine cover last April, and sure enough glints of malice appear throughout Miss Anthropocene like knives catching the light. Combining the nervous energy of Visions with the technical skill of Art Angels, Miss Anthropocene is a return to formative darkness – albeit a more fine-tuned one. References to hedonism, annihilation, drowning and sleepless nights run throughout, like a ten-track tumble through Dante’s nine circles of hell. Whatever form it takes – industrial metal, ambient, country and, yes, drum’n’bass – a sense of danger permeates Miss Anthropocene from start to finish.
Written from the perspective of climate change personified as a supervillain, Miss Anthropocene revels in violence. It’s a concept album about plunging past breaking point, the end of life as we know it; one that gives us a panoramic view of our own evil. Deep, pulsating synths provide a bedrock for most of the album, making the acts of greed, selfishness and self-destruction that brought us to this point sound seductive. “Unrest is in the soul/ We don’t move our bodies anymore” Grimes whispers on Darkseid – a song named after her PlayStation username.
Elsewhere, New Gods – a nod to the fictional race in the DC Comics universe – grapples with the stuck place humanity is currently in, where we’re not emotionally or psychologically evolved enough for the world we’ve created – a world where it seems increasingly pragmatic for technology and nature to co-exist, while humans become obsolete. Violence also takes a sideways look at humanity, using the language of an abusive relationship to depict the dynamic between people and the environment.
That said, Miss Anthropocene isn’t entirely impersonal. It’s hard not to read lyrics like “I’m not shy but I refuse to speak/ Because I don’t trust you to understand me” in My Name Is Dark as barbs about the press, if not from Boucher herself then at least the villainous persona she’s willing to embody. Meanwhile, the line “Funny how they think/ Us naive when we’re on the brink” in Delete Forever – a folksy guitar jam that sounds like Let Go era Avril Lavigne doing a protest song – lands as commentary on global powers being slow to act on climate change. Still, these moments of frankness are few and far between on an album that turns real fears about the future of the world into an immersive experience.
So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth and Before the fever are both hypnotic, downtempo songs that guide us towards transformation. As the album’s opener, So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth serves as a descent into the darkness the rest of the album explores. Meanwhile, Before the fever leads us into the seven-minute-long closer IDORU, a complete change in tone from the rest of the album. Opening with birdsong and bright keys, IDORU sounds like it’s set somewhere else – another planet, perhaps, or this one without people on it. With the oppressive atmosphere and thick instrumentals of the previous nine songs lifted and replaced by the sharp sounds of early 2010s Casiotone, Grimes leads us on a long stroll through this hopeful new world singing “We can play a beautiful game”. On that note, it’s worth mentioning that Miss Anthropocene is Grimes’ finest vocal work ever. Her voice, an ethereal whirr at the back of the mix in early releases, is now loud and resolute, gliding gracefully around the scales like fireflies in the dark.
Grimes has consistently challenged our assumptions about what pop music is and what it can be. The best many artists can hope for is to hold a mirror up to a shared reality and reflect something meaningful, but on Miss Anthropocene, Grimes conceptualises a vision of the future accessible only through her art. As for humanity, it’s hard to tell whether to take IDORU as a peaceful resolution, or Miss Anthropocene – an embodiment of beauty and destruction in equal measure – playing the pied piper, hypnotising us towards disaster until we reach the end, abruptly, on a stark flurry of keys.