Though the DIY production of previous releases now feels more branded and intent, Grimes remains as experimental and skillful as ever, broadening and occasionally subverting the trademark production for which she is now, to a degree, famous.
Grimes’s trajectory from underground synth shaman to underdog pop socialite is a fascinating one. Where her 2012 magnum opus Visions introduced a timid but technically masterful Claire Boucher to a wider audience, its 2015 follow-up Art Angels was a more confident attempt at the mainstream, or Grimes’s version of it. And a lot has happened since that album, too.
Between endless teasers, promises of forthcoming music, public label disputes carried out over Instagram, and a high-profile marriage to Tesla founder and sci-fi antihero Elon Musk, Boucher seems bent on stoking the public’s interest in very public ways. And while it may be easy to target Grimes for her stunts and repeated album delays, she has also made it impossible not to root for her; she has spoken candidly about gender imbalances in the world of production and all the barriers that come with them. She has been admirably transparent and sympathetic to her fans throughout the five-year wait for a new album, posting and responding to Instagram posts regularly (“4ad can suck my dik”).
Now that dispute is over – publicly, at least – with the release of Miss Anthropocene. On her fifth album, Grimes adopts the role of “anthropomorphic Goddess of climate change: A psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/beauty-Queen who relishes the end of the world;” think modern-day Thin White Duke wandering a Muskian dystopia. It’s a vision that exudes increasing confidence and a renewed sense of exploration following the technically pristine and more mainstream sound of Art Angels, a “piece of crap” and “stain on my life,” in her own words.
Where Boucher sounded like a repressed mad scientist on that album, Miss Anthropocene feels lighter on its feet and more intent in its execution. And while Visions remains her crowning achievement by a mile, Miss Anthropocene reads like a culmination of Grimes’s career-spanning thematic interests and production ambitions. Boucher might not be holed up in her apartment with GarageBand anymore, but she hasn’t softened her singular aesthetic either.
Her appeal and sensibility for hooks have broadened, but Miss Anthropocene is still shot through with the hallmarks of her artistry. It goes beyond simple oddity and into a world of Grimes’s creation, one where impending doom and the imminent threat of climate change shadows daily life, not to mention human obsolescence under the reign of artificial intelligence. It’s glum, but it’s the appeal of each Grimes album; Boucher is a world-builder, creating spaces entirely of their own.
An invite takes the form of ‘So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth,’ a gentle and unassuming odyssey into the pre-meltdown atmosphere. When gravity quickly pulls the music back down on ‘Darkseid,’ however, the world of Miss Anthropocene feels agitated and delirious, with a guest spot from Taiwan’s 潘PAN rattling off in breathless, panicked Mandarin. It’s an unnerving listen exacerbated by the industrial drone of a not-so-far-off warning horn, and an uneasiness Miss Anthropocene invites time and again – the closest she’s come to outright nihilism.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t jauntier, even cathartic moments. ‘Delete Forever’ deals with the loss of friends to the opioid crisis but features a melodically moaned chorus, all over acoustic strumming and banjo picking. ‘My Name Is Dark,’ a clear highlight, is a subversive party anthem in the vein of ‘Kill V. Maim’ and ‘Oblivion,’ an acidic, screaming number outlining what could be Miss Anthropocene’s premise: “Imminent annihilation sounds so dope.” Album closer ‘Idoru’ is bubblegum pop in Grimes’s world, as inviting and vulnerable as she’s ever sounded.
With a rollout as drawn-out and dramatic as anything in the Kanye canon, Miss Anthropocene delivers on its promises. Though the DIY production of previous releases now feels more branded and intent, Boucher remains as experimental and skillful as ever, broadening and occasionally subverting the trademark production for which she is now, to a degree, famous. And that isn’t a knock on Grimes’s motivations, either; she is a self-professed student of pop stars. Miss Anthropocene is a shining example of that fastidiousness, artfully navigating her conflicting impulses for maintaining underground appeal and gaining celebrity. Can we blame her if she becomes one?
Find other essential releases on February 21 here