“You wanna make me bad, make me bad,” playfully sings Claire Boucher, known as Grimes, on her new lead single “Violence.” The single presents the sonic tendencies of early 2000s-inspired synth pop, but with the darkness of female-led nu metal that was popular around the same time. It’s a very interesting aesthetical choice in today’s musical climate.
“And I like it like that, and I like it like that,” she follows the phrase with. It’s the kind of single to lead an album with, or in Grimes’ case, a sort of movement in her own right.
“Miss_Anthrop0cene” is Grimes’ fifth studio release and, in typical fashion, displays the Canadian artist’s knack for evolved and experimental pop music, but it is much more than that. The album provides a vessel for Grimes to play the role of a “villain,” which she gladly calls “the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change.”
Grimes hasn’t always been the best at wording her thoughts, or at least the media would like you to believe so. Regardless, she is a fascinating individual and very knowledgeable. You would have to be when you’re in a relationship with SpaceX founder Elon Musk, which is still viewed as a controversial companionship.
In a 2015 article by The Guardian, the interviewer really focused on how Grimes would catch herself back and forth, always struggling with her thought process. It’s a prime excuse for the media to paint her in an unsatisfying light, intentional or not, but Grimes is a true artist and she found a way to exploit it.
“Each song will be a different embodiment of human extinction as depicted through a Pop star Demonology,” said Grimes in an interview with Pitchfork when she officially announced the album.
The head-spinning synopsis of the album’s thematic focus provides the kind of pretension one would expect from an independent artist, especially one who produces and composes all her own music with the exception of some mixing and mastering. Yet, Grimes understands her true sound is imprinted in unpretentious pop music. She has always had an ear for melody and pop structure when she’s not going off the rails like on the Eastern-inspired trip-hop single, “4ÆM,” which finds her in a push-pull state between fantasy and reality. The verses are built upon graceful melodic minor scales before raining down hell fire in the blaring barrage of a chorus.
The album plays off of these dynamics, and this is evident in the wonderous three-track-run of the album’s opening. “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” provides a progressive, ethereal atmosphere that would, instrumentally, fare quite well on an ambient release. It is a subtle intro to the album with beautifully mixed synths and chiming guitar that hangs overhead before going into a subdued, semi-orchestral finale. It is the calm before the storm.
The second track, “Darkseid,” immediately strikes like thunder, waking up the listener and sending them through a vortex of booming drums and crashing industrial electronics. At times, it even sounds like trap. Asian artist 潘PAN, maniacally and poetically raps over the verses in her native language with utter urgency while the world crumbles around her.
“Delete Forever” is gorgeous country folk pop that serves as a tribute to Grimes’ fallen friends to the opioid crisis. That’s right. Country folk pop. It feels like a marriage with Kacey Musgraves’ country pop tendencies. Its heart-wrenching lyricism stands at the forefront of the track while rhythmic acoustic guitar and a beautiful trumpet riff remain in the background, but are no less essential. The song feels like a perfect advancement from “California,” one of the lead singles off of Grimes’ 2015 diverse pop opus, “Art Angels.”
The album loads a lot of its strongest ammo in the front half of the track list, but the reflective back half is not to be taken for granted. The transcendent ballad, “New Gods,” provides a palate cleanser while also remaining profound and flavorful.
One could complain about monotony in slow tracks, but this is broken up by the bass-driven “You’ll miss me when I’m not around,” a track that could do well as a more complete Twenty-One Pilots vision. Also, the seven-minute trance of optimistic love song, “IDORU,” ends the album’s themes on a positive and hopeful note. It is a beautiful closer and it’s hard not to get lost in the bubblegum pop propensity of the chorus.
For an album that focuses on a villainous demigod, it is incredibly human. The juxtaposition of the seemingly artificial instrumentation with the organic lyricism and songwriting makes for a varied listening experience. This experience can lead you through the turmoil of the human existence in subdued ways or send you through a black hole with Madonna-inspired vocals surrounding you.
Although the album comes off as convoluted at times with its lyrical themes, there’s definitely enough here to unpack and ponder. It’s a rewarding experience with a near-perfect runtime that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It might even be Grimes’ most musically focused project yet, standing alongside her 2012 classic and breakthrough album, “Visions.”
In an article from NME, Grimes stated she wanted to make climate change fun. “I’ll find a way to make that useful to society,” she said. It’s truly a jarring statement, and one that could easily be taken out of context, but none of this is new to Grimes. Grimes remains on the frontlines of pop and indie music, continually pushing herself in new directions while retaining what captures her identity as an artist and a human being. You say we want to make you bad, Miss Boucher, but you haven’t truly given us a musical reason to believe that yet.
Final rating: 4/5
Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh