The indie pop legend has finally come back, but the results are somewhat more mixed than her past albums.
Originally published on 3/3/2020.
Canadian pop artist Claire Boucher, better known as Grimes, has gone from underground crooner to indie pop sensation over the last decade. Though she is probably best known to the general public for being Elon Musk’s girlfriend, her musical evolution over the years has been quite interesting. In 2010, she released her first two albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa. Both of these albums showed off a unique mixture of gothic music and minimal pop, though most of the songs were largely forgettable. Things didn’t really start to get interesting until 2012’s Visions, Boucher’s breakout album that showcased a more refined palate for melody and arrangement. Written and recorded in just three weeks using GarageBand, Visions was met with critical fanfare and resulted in the acquisition of a significant fanbase for Boucher and her music. Her next album, 2015’s Art Angels, took her sound even further, with her most detailed, pop-inspired production yet and her vocals being brought much closer to the center of the mix than on her previous material. Boucher’s musical ambitions reached a whole new height with Art Angels, showing the world just what she’s capable of.
While it does carry on with Boucher’s exploration of melody and atmosphere, her new album Miss Anthropocene is sonically, thematically, and aesthetically darker than Art Angels. It also boasts an even more futuristic sound and concept than that last album, Boucher now seemingly embracing the sound of artificial intelligence. With lyrics about various subjects such as substance abuse, trauma due to the death of a loved one, the evolution of technology, and falling in love during the apocalypse, Miss Anthropocene attempts to combine all of these to paint a picture of a dystopian future – and largely succeeds. The concept of the record is quite strong overall, and makes all these seemingly disjointed subjects work together effectively as a whole.
Many of the ten tracks on Miss Anthropocene are creatively and densely arranged, continuing Boucher’s recent fixture on a more futuristic sound that began with Art Angels. Opener “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth (Art Mix)” is a slick, futuristic pop banger with one of the best choruses on the album, and manages to stay interesting through its six-minute runtime. “Darkseid,” though featuring too little of Boucher, boasts an absolutely stunning pair of verses by Taiwanese rap artist 潘PAN (better known as Aristophanes) which paint a vivid picture of the trauma and grief one faces after the death of a loved one – in her case, the suicide of a close friend. “My Name Is Dark (Art Mix)” manages to bring elements of nu metal – yes, freaking nu metal – into Grimes’ sound, resulting in a surprisingly effective and memorable song that is arguably one of the strongest of her career. The track “You’ll miss me when I’m not around,” while it could have been longer, is easily the funkiest song on the album, sporting a fantastic, simple, poppy bassline and an unforgettable chopped vocal melody interplaying with Boucher’s verses.
However, I can’t review this album without specifically mentioning “Delete Forever.” The best song on the album, and one of the best Boucher has ever released, “Delete Forever” seamlessly integrates early 2000’s guitar pop into her sound with gorgeous results. Filled with catchy, memorable melodies, each set of verses builds up to a beautiful, wordless, chopped-up hook that so many EDM artists in the past have tried and failed to deliver effectively. Read into the lyrics, however, and things get much darker. They address the perils of drug addiction and its effect on loved ones in a poetic, devastating manner – all without it sounding like a PSA. According to Boucher, the song was written on the night of the tragic and sudden death of popular emo rapper Lil Peep, who overdosed shortly after his 21st birthday in late 2017. Knowing this, the song becomes even more affecting than it already was.
Unfortunately, there are some significant problems with Miss Anthropocene. Most notably, it is heavily compressed to the point where the impact these songs were obviously meant to have is diminished. There’s so little dynamic range on the record overall that listening to the whole album in one sitting can be tiresome, despite how catchy and creatively produced many of these songs are. Additionally, there are tracks here that pale in comparison to others. “New Gods” and “Before the fever” both have arrangements that aren’t especially interesting and ultimately fizzle out. It’s as if they just kind of strolled into the party, ate a few chips and slinked out without talking to anybody. “4ÆM” sees Grimes try to incorporate a fast acid-dubstep beat into her style, but it doesn’t gel together with the rest of the song and leaves the whole thing just feeling like a mess. It certainly doesn’t help that there’s a near-unbearable amount of high-end on the already breathy vocals. Album closer “Idoru (Art Mix),” while a pleasant and memorable song, starts losing its momentum after about four minutes; it didn’t need to go on for another three (and, as mentioned before, “You’ll miss me when I’m not around” could consequently have benefitted from a slightly longer runtime).
Overall, Miss Anthropocene is a swell but flawed album that doesn’t reach the heights of quality that Art Angels did. While most of the songs’ arrangements are formidable, some tracks aren’t nearly as good as others. The brick-wall production across the board lessens the effect these songs should have had, too. However, with a strong concept and overall flow, beautiful lyrics, creative musical arrangements, and some of Boucher’s best material to date, there is plenty to love here. There’s no reason to believe she can’t improve upon Miss Anthropocene with her next release, whenever that may be.
Listen to Miss Anthropocene on Apple Music or Spotify below.