Grimes —Montreal-based sonic stylist Claire Boucher— struck on something, and stumbled into an unintentional meme, when she dubbed her music 'post-internet.' She wasn't trying to suggest that her music was made entirely off-the-grid in the way that 'post-' equates to abandoned, or transcended. Boucher meant it literally: the 23-year-old had grown up knowing only the internet, and her restless creative impulse was the product of a new landscape, a new era of music-makers.
As a child of the filesharing generation, Boucher has come of age with music's entire history, its every genre and oddity, at her fingertips. The internet first introduced this phenomenon in the early days of the 21st century; with works like Kid A and Vespertine standing as totemic figures of the new frontiers forged by filesharing forums; the first albums speaking to this new digital revolution.
Coming of age post-digital-epoch is, for Grimes, post-internet: she the part of everything that came after that musical rupture. Whilst countless acts —headlined by those decade-defining twin spirits Gang Gang Dance and Animal Collective— flowered in this brave new (sound)world, they were around before the change, lived through it, and were catalysts for all that happened afterwards. But Grimes grew up in this, and instead of being a learned quirk, for Boucher it's second nature to make music mixing R&B programming, K-pop hyper-stylization, Goth ambience, abstract-electro experimentation, etc. Forget 'post-internet,' the better descriptor for Grimes is 'post-genre.'
Boucher arrived from out of nowhere, in 2010, with two free-to-download LPs issued through Québécois co-op Arbutus (also home to Blue Hawaii, Sean Nicholas Savage, Tops, etc). The first, Geidi Primes, featured more 'warm' instrumentation —decaying folkie twangs and furry-edged samples— whereas the latter, Halfaxa, started to push Boucher more towards her singular Grimes sound. On it, squeaking synths and thudding beats were dowsed under cascading waves of Boucher's high, eerie, sinuous voice; which is —as is her 'post-internet' way— inspired by Elizabeth Fraser (of Cocteau Twins), multi-octave celebrity warbler Mariah Carey, and legendary playback singer Lata Mangeshkar, all at once.
Halfaxa registered on impact, taking this unknown kid from Montréal instantaneously into the ranks of 2010's Best Albums. In the album's digitized files, there was, with utter clarity, signs that Boucher was doing something all her own making; and 2011's Dark Bloom, her split record alongside pal d'Eon, showed Grimes inching towards something more accessible, more pop-like, more joyously expressive, without sacrificing an iota of her individuality.
Visions, Boucher's third LP, arrives as a true breakout moment; the record to take her to a huge, welcoming, awed audience. And, handily, it's also her best work thus far: refining the Grimes sound in every way, polishing productions to a brilliant gleam. Boucher's otherworldly talent shines undeniably bright on jams like "Vowels = Space And Time" and twin singles "Genesis" and "Oblivion," whose melodies resemble pop-songs even if their structures in no way do; their refrains —sung in huge waves of multi-tracked sound, dowsed in eerie echo— dancing over frolicking synths and rickety drum programming.
How Did the Feeling Feel to You?
It's hard to write about these pop-songs using the familiar lexicon of music criticism, because, in the liberation of its 'post-internet' creation, there's nothing chaining it to known commodities. Just as Grimes' music transcends genre, so, too, does it rise above songcraft's standard sentimentalities: there's no upbeat rockers nor downbeat ballads, no optimistic major keys nor tired minors.
With no demarcated emotional readings written into the tunes, "Oblivion" can, therefore, sound both bursting with joy and eerily sad (especially when Boucher sings "when you're running by yourself it's hard to find someone to hold your hand"); to shed tears, in the face of such, being both in thrall to its optimistic beauty and plunged into something achingly personal, almost unexplainable.
"Skin" is of slow enough pace and long enough tenure to be thought of as a ballad; this slow-jam heaving with tactile physicality ("Skin" not just title, but central symbol), exploring sex as experience humanizing, transcendent, troubling, and socially awkward, all. Boucher's voice is at its most Mariah-like, but she's certainly not showing off, or going for big emotion; the way it flutters, wavers, waxes, and wanes feeling exploratory, but also somewhat directionless; like the diva's Butterfly trapped inside, unable to make sense of a window's glass.
This is Your Brain on Grimes
There's no straight reading of these astounding, constantly surprising, and certainly moving songs; no way to clarify how they're moving you, or in which direction. Misdirection is, indeed, part of Boucher's arsenal of tricks: the electronic tropes of synthesized new-age calm and programmed dancefloor furore are employed, but their dumb functionality is dragged into a place of unexpected creativity; wafting synths no cue to relax, banging beats no cue to dance. Here, the cues are few; Grimes, more like an ambient artist than a singer-songwriter, doesn't want to make you feel anything specific, just something; and the more conflicted, complex, and contradictory the feeling/s, the better.
Or, moreso, Grimes wants you to feel something new. Boucher was a student of cognitive neuroscience at McGill University, and, thus, is all too aware of how humans use such a tiny fraction of their brains, see the world through established templates, and, musically speaking, listen to things through the bias of familiar forms. Listening to Visions feels, then, like experiencing sound through previously-unconnected neural networks; Boucher's unexpected approach to pop making things sound familiar enough to be affectionately comprehended, but new enough to be a catalyst to the brain's unending plasticity.
Those who peer into the workings of the brain often are not so much scientists but dreamers; those wishing to one day truly understand —and, in turn, explore— those mysterious frontiers of the subconscious, of dreams, of hallucinations, of memory, of temporality. Boucher may've ended up a neuroscience drop-out, but she's still blessed with an explorer's sense of divined adventure. Forging forward into the unknown, Boucher is an unexpected musical hero for a post-internet, post-genre age; leaving behind pop-song platitudes, the familiar signposts of genre, and the standard rock'n'roll canon to vovoyage into —to envisioning— a boundary-less musical future.
Record Label: Arbutus/4AD
Release Date: February 21, 2012