Grimes’ excellent third album, Visions, presents No Genre with a difficult critical challenge. On the one hand, I feel compelled to try to say something intelligent about an album that has more than earned the right to be pondered. But on the other, the album is so good that I’m a little stuck writing anything like a cogent argument in its defense, which keeps leading me to idiotically simple thoughts (e.g. “Visions is a good album”). So, we’ll just go ahead and indulge both impulses because Visions has clearly been speaking to these two sides of me.
Attempted Cogent Argument #1
One of the most intellectually rewarding albums last year was John Maus’ We Must Become Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, an arch electro-pop dissertation on the theoretical and emotional confines of synthetic music. As cast by Maus himself, the album was an occasion to do some serious thinking about the reification of nostalgia, especially with regard to reclaiming analog instruments in the service of some vague (and backwards) concept of authenticity. I thought a lot about We Must Become as I listened to Visions. Both albums invite a sincere consideration of the ways in with analog instruments have been reconfigured for retro-futuristic ends that serve their masters but not their inspirations.
Idiotically Simple Thought #1
Grimes’ new album, Visions, is a good album. You will like listening to it. Probably. I don’t know, actually. But I think it’s good. Let me tell you some reasons why I like this good album. I think a lot of the songs are good songs. Most of the songs on this album are good. There really are not that many bad songs.
Attempted Cogent Argument #2
But Clair Boucher is interested in much more than creating theoretical set pieces for some deep thinking about musical culture in the early years of the 21st century. Maus used analog electronic gear as a means to an end to make a complicated point about how he was not using them as a means to an end and that everyone else, in fact, was using them as a means to an end. Where Visions trumps We Must Become is how Boucher uses more or less the same aesthetic simply as a means to an end. She appears to be totally uninterested in the ways in which her carefully crafted electro-witchcraft reflects the cultural superstructure of nostalgia and re-appropriation. Which is ultimately to her credit because it allows her to get down to the business of writing memorable songs that flirt with your brain and your heart.
Idiotically Simple Thought #2
I really like the song “Genesis.” It is a really good song. I have listened to the song “Genesis” about 34 times in the past few days. I think it might be a love song. But it also might be a song about heartbreak. I don’t really know. But whatever kind of song “Genesis” is, I really like it a lot. The Grimes woman is really good at writing songs. Her name is Clair Boucher. That’s a nice name, I think.
Attempted Cogent Argument #3
As the album’s centerpiece, “Genesis” is the album’s emotional and aesthetic watchword, a darkly bouncy paradox whose coyness belies its boldness. While the primary synth line is practically cribbed from Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” the vocal filigree is reminiscent of a more outgoing Julianna Barwick. And that’s about as apt a description as I can summon: an organically fragile voice both buffeted and buoyed by an array of electronic instrumentation. Elsewhere, Boucher toys with familiar pop idioms, especially the vaguely anthemic “Vowels = Space and Time,” a song that liberally borrows from techno diva rundowns. And “Oblivion,” with its grimly romantic refrain “See you on a dark night,” is cutesy goth dressed in bubbling synths. All over this album, Boucher’s vaporous voice, floating somewhere vaguely above or behind the mix, contrasts beautifully with the tight, crisp production. Lyrically, Boucher is a heart-on-sleeve hopeless romantic. When she breathily confesses that she would say “yes” on “Symphonia IX (My Wait is U),” the line stands as a sort of confirmation that for Boucher it’s all worth the pain and the heartache that hides just behind each of these beauties.
Idiotically Simple Thought #3
Some of the songs sound like songs I probably heard at a middle school dance. Or kind of like them. Like they have been updated or something. They are some pretty special songs. I really like the one called “Oblivion.” I guess I would not have heard that at a middle school dance. Hahaha, unless I went to an all-girls school in Transylvania! Hahahaha. Anyway, I think you will probably like some of these songs. Probably. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t like songs that sound like these songs. Other songs I like are “Symphonia IX (My Wait is U)” and “Vowels = Space and Time.” Those songs are good songs, but they have weird names. Another good song is “Visiting Statue,” but it is too short. Some of the songs are too short on this album. But some of the songs are just right. Like the porridge that Goldilocks liked the best.
Attempted Cogent Argument #4
Great albums contain multitudes. They only ask for what a listener is willing to give. And in this way, Visions is either a masterpiece of reclaimed pop idioms—electro, R&B, minimal wave, Top 40, synth pop—or it is simply a beguilingly engaging album of would-be hits for the indie set. Visions can be an occasion for you to consider the depths to which Moroder’s pioneering synth work has been ingrained in the 21st century American underground pop imagination, or it can simply be a collection of stellar songs by an impish fairy with a backbone. Either way, Visions is the first truly great album of the year because it will be all things to all people. It will inspire as many fanboys lighting up the blogs as it will think pieces in Tiny Mix Tapes. It will soundtrack as many lonely walks home alone as it will make out sessions.
Idiotically Simple Thought #4
It is probably easy to think really hard about this album. I don’t understand a lot of the reviews that I have read. I do not know what ‘post-internet’ is. I am glad that some people think big things about this good album. I am satisfied with just listening to it. But you should think big things about it if you want to. Maybe that is what makes the album so good. You can think big things, and I can just think my simple thoughts. That makes this album an 8.5 album in my book.
Rating: 8.5 / 10