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“DD Review: Grimes – Miss Anthropocene


Score: 9.5/10

Somewhat understandably, Grimes seemed to almost petulantly and adamantly retreat from the public eye for close to about half a decade or so, following the release of Art Angels, her poppiest record still and ergo one which would have theoretically garnered her the most non-musical exposure, or, attention to aspects of her having naught or minimal to do with her musical output. Art Angels was an album in 2015 that was receiving magnanimous hype prior to its release, almost to the point where it seemed like it were incumbent on this one Canadian electro diva to singlehandedly save music, or at least mainstream music. So even after the critical acclaim of 2012’s Visions, an album which had attracted an 80 out of 100 Metacritic rating (Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam fetched a 79, to put things in perspective) and gotten her on Pitchfork’s “Best New Music” [1], the compromise of interests on the part of much of the media is punctuated in volatile force in Kelefah Senneh’s New Yorker piece “Grimes and the Pop Mainstream.” Senneh’s piece, which was meant I guess as a swatch in championing and potentiating women’s agencies in and among the music industry, with a perhaps fiduciary bent, nonetheless completely amputates conceptually what Grimes had accomplished in her career up to that point, which was issuing the canonical favorite Visions and also 2010’s Halfaxa, arguably her most abrasive and vital music of her career (although try Googling those song titles… sheesh). To hear the tone of that New Yorker article, you’d think all that were important for female divas were achieving commercial success and becoming a “star,” an attitude which perhaps doesn’t clash with Me Too or with feminism but would certainly chafe the disposition of any fan of independent music and/or music’s true integrity and synergy in materializing as unencumbered by a corporate dollar, or outside of a set mainstream list of artistic rules, of sorts. Add to this all of the horrific human atrocities to which this woman has been subject throughout her career [2] and the sum total is certainly one troubling, dispiriting sociological landscape, one from which the logical human mind would only naturally want to take refuge, at least long enough to ensure a sort of holistic preservation of the self and the morale.

Then that “We Appreciate Power” single came out, which is kind of on her new album and kind of not [3], and I just KNEW that she was making a joke about feminine weakness and passivity, but also that nobody would even get it, so there was no point in even listening to that song (to be honest I’ve still never heard that song to this day… I usually don’t do sole singles unless they’re by maybe a person like Mr. Probz who just seems SO predicated upon them, not to mention too stoned out to make a whole album at a time). Really, though, when it was all said and done, Miss Anthropocene dropped into the world without too much hype, sort of like the new Green Day record – actually I think it was so discreet in its materialization that Bandcamp even missed its release for their “Essential Releases” of this week (I find that a lot more likely than them hearing it and not liking it).

For all her musical muscle she’s flexed this past decade, though, it’s possible that we were still to this day waiting for the PERFECT album lead-in from the diva, and we finally get it with “So Heavy I Fell through the Earth,” a track that’s light and ethereal but still heavy, in its own Grimes sort of way, for the deliberate, persistent methodology of creating a mood that’s distinct and unprecedented. The synthesizers collect, exude and form a veritable electronica rain forest downpour, which makes it hardly too askance from Grimes’ consummate style, but does serve to disguise and almost completely mask the mousey electric guitar part that provides lustrous little frills to both the soundscape and melodic interplay.

Without question, “Darkseid” is a compelling song and plausible talking point from this album. In general, the tricks of the trade are borrowed from her former work – a big, punchy hip-hop beat, jungly bass that might call to mind Jlin and even that weird sort of spliced gibberish vocal that haunted the verses on Art Angels’ “SCREAM.” I was sort of hoping this album would be WEIRD in a way, after that LCD pop capsule that was Art Angels and just seeing as it was a Grimes album and all, so was happy to unearth on the Grimes scroll the off-beat wisdom that “Unrest is in the soul / We don’t move our bodies anymore”. This haunting lyric is ultimately what saves “Darkseid” from selfsame ennui, especially as at some points Grimes’ percussive habits veer dangerously close to Homogenic territory.

Another sort of trap I thought Grimes be stepping into at this point was the act of deliberately just issuing a club album – an album of music that isn’t even meant to be listened to at home, or in a car, or on headphones wherever, but solely places where DJ’s are choosing from a select list of ready records that will keep people moving and popping pills (and spending money) in public places. And then… that Pearl Jam acoustic guitar came in on “Delete Forever,” pretty much emaciating that fear in one fell swoop. But for all its startlingly warm and welcoming sonic disposition, “Delete Forever” really isn’t a total failure – the song itself, which yes believe it or not is sort of like orchestral folk rock as it does wield a prominent synthesizer, offers a full, robust chord progression that pithily straddles the major and minor, very much the work of a seasoned veteran of music with a deep perspective on its creation. Yes, it is easy to forget but Grimes is 31 years old and on her fourth album here. Also, ironically, it’s arguably on this song showcased to the greatest extent that Miss Anthropocene is an exercise in instrumentation eclecticism, this banjo even sauntering in coolly for a cameo appearance during one late-song bridge in which it’s complemented with trumpet and also this booming, colossal bass, which though simplest also most earmarks an established production genius.

On “Violence” [4], over grating but cathartic bass eighth notes, Grimes somewhat hauntingly ensures us that “You can’t see what I see”, before the song balloons into a dark party that might call to mind The Knife or the more vital work of Andy Stott (which is most of it, really). “4 AM” [5] is a joyful romp of midnight in which I could only make out the words “4 AM” and “You’re gonna get sick” but still sounded pretty good to me. What seems to become apparent about this album by the time of “New Gods,” which is a gorgeous synth bath free of all percussion, is the overwhelmingly unpretentious quality of this album, undoubtedly the work of reservoirs and reservoirs of inspiration stored up in the artist over the years. Actually, it’s so natural, direct and quintessentially “Grimes” that I almost wish she’d do something stupid like a trap song or a Massive Attack ripoff, just to mix things up a bit. But she stays the course grippingly and with this being the case, this is an LP that goes by as faster than it is, flows right through you but will ingratiate itself to both your memory and your overall conception of what IDM can accomplish, particularly on a melodic level, like a female Kanye West in a way.

“You’ll miss me when I’m not around” is a track I remember having a certain flair to it but in closing, I’d like to discuss the closeur, appropriately enough, “IDORU.” “IDORU” might very well be the best song Grimes has ever lain to wax and it may surprise some people that it’s actually a bona fide love song, in every sense of the term, more or less. Actually, I’d originally planned on listening to the whole deluxe version which contains tracks after “IDORU” but I just couldn’t, after I heard the poignancy and arching beauty of this track. Now, what IS that sound that opens this song? It sort of sounds like a car alarm, actually, not charmingly enough. But it’s right in rhythm and it’s laced with these rustling, dubstep drums that you barely even notice but that bulwark the mix nonetheless with Grimes’ signature crisp sense of rhythm. Then, taking the arpeggio mid-section is I believe a treated piano, like a piano stuffed inside four consecutive cardboard boxes each of which is wrapped in paper, to be not so scientific about it. Then, the chorus comes around and “IDORU” morphs into a pop song really not too unlike “Flesh without Blood,” but with the opposite sort of subject matter of “We could play a beautiful game / You could chase me down in the name” [6]. She then slows things down for a simple proclamation of “I adore you” and the feeling is intimate but the overall infrastructure still moves along, still gallops like a horse, like a bona fide, focused ballad that’s too grounded to get caught up in stylistic theatrics of the languid or the moribund. All in all, the seven minutes of “IDORU” race by like four and when the album is over, the listener is left with this overarching sense of finality. Actually, it is even like a happy ending in a movie, which of course might just have been a cheesy enough idea to make Grimes delay this album by a couple of years.

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[1] This is kind of a big deal, on pitchfork.com, or was maybe before Lana Del Rey’s cosmically vapid video game sexcapades, at least. Interestingly, 2015 is also the year Pitchfork was purchased by Conde Nast, which also owns The New Yorker.

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[2] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/apr/15/grimes-producers-have-demanded-sex.

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[3] The primary, basic or vinyl pressing of Miss Anthropocene will lack this track, closing with “IDORU,” but the digital “deluxe” version does carry it followed by a litany of remixes of the previous album tracks.

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[4] I know that this is technically described as the “Original Mix” but it’s the only mix that’s on the album proper and not the deluxe edition, the “club mix” only appearing on the latter and not the basic vinyl pressing, and I am only reviewing the album proper here and not the deluxe.

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[5] Yeah you’re supposed to stylize it with one of those weird A/E hybrids like in Aenima… I swear I’m gonna wring Grimes’ little neck with all these unorthodox letterings.

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[6] I didn’t think that’s actually what she said there: trust me it sounds cooler if you’re listening to the actual song.

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