8th January 2021
Grimes is an artist I wasn’t aware of until her name started to be linked to Elon Musk. The fact that she is now married to one of my heroes will have no bearing on today’s mini-feature, but I am certainly happy that something happened to bring her to my attention. This is one very talented artist who achieved her own success long before becoming Mrs Musk.
When I say artist I mean it in the broadest sense. Apart from being a skilled singer/songwriter, she’s also a multi-instrumentalist, sound engineer, record producer, music-video director, visual artist, and very deep thinker with some pretty wild ideas on life, the universe, and everything.
For those of you who, like me, didn’t know much more than the name of someone who sounded like the epitome of grunge, today I am giving you a crash course on Claire Elsie Boucher, otherwise known as Grimes.
Canadian born, Grimes studied Neuroscience and Russian at McGill University and started writing and self-promoting herself under the name of Grimes in 2007. Her performance name was due to the MySpace restriction of 3 musical genres per artist, she listed all of them as grime, only finding out later that Grime was a genre of music!
Grimes and I share a mutual passion for the classic Frank Herbert Sci-Fi series Dune, and her 2010 debut album, Geidi Primes, was a concept album based around the themes the book series explores. This was followed by a second album released in the same year, but It was her third studio album, Visions, that saw her rise to fame and win the 2012 Juno Award for Best Electronic Album.
Trying to define her style of music is near on impossible as it drifts between Art-Pop, Synth/Dream Pop, R&B, some HIP HOP, but all mixed up as a soundscape that is both clever and intriguing. Getting to know her music a little made me think of how I felt when I first heard the Cocteau Twins all those years ago; happily bemused.
The Visions album was a true artist’s journey for Grimes. Having been set a tight deadline for the album, the majority of it was recorded while isolating herself in a darkened flat over three consecutive weeks to get it done. The result won her critical acclaim throughout the musical press and apart from the Juno, the album was included on a number of publications’ year-end lists and is considered Grimes’ breakout album. NME included it on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list in 2013, and it won the Webby Artist of the Year Award for 2013. Let’s start today with the track ‘Oblivion’.
It seemed that Grimes couldn’t put a foot wrong and her strange edgy-ethereal music was lapped up by fans and critics alike. She ranked on the Rolling Stone Best Songs of 2014 list for her track ‘Go’, a song that had originally been written for (and rejected by) Rihanna. Early 2015 saw the release of the self-directed video for the track ‘REALiTi’ which Pitchfork heralded as her best work since the Visions album.
Announcements about a new album started appearing on social media with hints of Grimes leaving behind the synths and electronics of her former recordings, and using ‘real’ instruments instead.
Late in October 2015 she released both the lead single ‘Flesh Without Blood’ from the upcoming album and a two-act music video featuring it and another song from the album ‘Life in the Vivid Dream’. The album followed in November 2015 and the accolades soon poured in. It received an impressive 88/100 on Metacritic and the Best New Music Award from Pitchfork, who’s Jessica Hopper described Art Angels as “evidence of Boucher’s labour and an articulation of a pop vision that is incontrovertibly hers… an epic holiday buffet of tendentious feminist fuck-off, with second helpings for anonymous commenters and music industry blood-suckers.”
Art Angels was named best album of the Year by NME, Exclaim! and Stereogum, and peaked at number 1 on the Billboard US Top Alternative Album Chart and number 2 on the Billboard Top Independent Album chart. Grimes also won the 2016 International award at the Socan Annual Awards and the 2016 Harper’s Bazaar Musician of the Year Award. Not bad for someone just 6 years into their career.
My second choice for today is the two-part video ‘Flesh without Blood / Life in the Vivid Dream’.
The awards for Grimes continued to flow when her high-budget futuristic music video for Venus Fly won Best Dance Video, and another Juno for Video of the Year in 2017 for ‘Kill V. Main’ – the follow-up video in the Flesh without Blood / Life in the Vivid Dream series.
A period of interesting collaborations followed including her writing the score for the Netflix animated series, Hilda. In August 2019 Grimes mentioned the first single from an upcoming album, Miss Anthropocene, that was planned for release at the end of September.
Grimes 5th studio album saw the world in February 2020 and I have listened to it in its entirety a few times. My verdict? Brilliant! The track I have chosen to close today’s mini-feature is ‘So Heavy I Fell Through Earth’. Anyone who acknowledges well-engineered electronic cleverness and an understanding of the genre will appreciate just how huge this woman’s talent is.
I always enjoy some of the descriptions of musical styles that I come across while researching someone as complex as Grimes. To close the feature for today I thought I’d leave you with some classics. She was described by Tastemakers Magazine as an “alien love-child of Aphex Twin and ABBA”. Dazed stated: “In a sense, she’d always thrived on being too pop for indie and too indie for pop”, and The Guardian summarised her musical style: “By sounding a little like everything you’ve ever heard, the whole sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard.”
Thanks for exploring a little of Grimes with me today. As I said earlier, her music is new to me but I’ve come to the swift conclusion that I’m a new fan of this enigmatic artist. Catch you soon!
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music’s Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
The Author owns no copyright on the images or videos in this article. All images and links sourced from YouTube and Google and within the public domain.
Words © Andrew Knapp 2021