Grimes Edges Into the Future With ‘Miss Anthropocene’
Grimes is an enigmatic electronic polymath that never ceases to amaze. Her songs blur the lines between the most saccharine EDM pop and the most outre hipster fare. Her live shows feature her alone with gear and a mic, making a prime example of a one woman show. “Miss Anthropocene,” Grimes latest album, takes a few unanticipated darts in new directions, while the bulk of the album shows Grimes expanding the sound that she awed with a decade ago on her debut, “Geidi Primes,” presenting it now in a honed, saturated, amplified form.
“So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth (Art Mix)” begins with what you might expect from Grimes, showcasing her trademark characteristics, in full force. The song is a wash of ambience over an understated beat, with Grimes bellowing away in a sea of reverb, ascending to helium registers, making the title seem all the more ironic. Near the end, she picks up pitch-shifted vocals, but the haze around her makes them hardly register. The first track sets the template, then the beat starts with “Darkseid,” a song named after a Justice League villain, originally written for Lil Uzi Vert, but then repurposed, and thank heavens for that, as it’s about as quirky and alien as Grimes ever gets. As usual, sensual, breathy speaking erupts into a frenzied, crazed outpour, but this time the song features Taiwanese rapper Aristophanes (Pan Wei Ju), credited as 潘PAN, a previous collaborator, who seems like a natural extension of Grimes’ aesthetic, taking it to new proportions that seems a seamless meshing of styles. 潘PAN addresses the suicide of a friend on the track, but as with any Grimes track, dark and light blend into something altogether indecipherable, and the result is stunning.
“Delete Forever” is an entirely new sound for Grimes, with an acoustic guitar-based backdrop, and even banjo. No one could have seen this coming. It’s a highlight, as it’s simply out of character, yet still somehow sounds like no one else but Grimes. Next, “Violence” turns back to the usual terrain, a throwback to the days of “Vanessa,” when Grimes made her name among connoisseurs of everything strange, with her singular blend of sounds — baby voice, rave culture lampoon, neon, avant-garde adventure. At this stage, there is plenty of momentum, and “4/EM” brings it to a peak, with synth distortion to blow speakers, alternating with spaces of free howling and echoes piling atop one another, then erupting into another outburst. There has always been a punk streak to Grimes’ music, especially pronounced on her last record, condensed, and amplified again on this track, a showcase of all her idiosyncratic, sprightly, feisty abandon. Having proven she’s still Grimes, in case anyone had a doubt, she takes another dart in a new direction. While not quite as much of a departure as “Delete Forever,” “New Gods,” is nearly a ballad, with histrionic bellowing, thudding, resounding snare drums, and all the works.
“My Name Is Dark (Art Music)” is a punchy track, with warbling, overlapping echoes, cat screeching, and deranged, free rein abandon, alternating between stream-of-consciousness utterances, and psychedelic space choirs. This is most definitely another peak. It’s a circus cage match, with sirens, demons and angels having at it, in a perfectly chaotic, fantastical mess. Next, “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Not Around” begins with pitch-shifted vocals again, but of course treated in a way that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone but Grimes. Buzzy distortion adds some other characteristic edge, and otherwise the song is Grimes at her most poppy. She was an outspoken fan of K-pop long before anyone stateside had a clue what it was, and it always seeps into her music, perhaps particularly on this one.
Another relative stylistic departure comes on “Before the Fever,” which begins like a space age scenario in which Siri took up melody, and sang through a series of funnels, then bursts into an ‘80s slow dance segment, if reimagined after eons, until the sound darkens, dampens, and gracefully fades away. Finally, “IDORU” begins with birds chirping, and a repeating tone that sounds like Syd Barrett wrote it. In moments, it bursts into standard Grimes fare, if that were ever even a thing. All the elements are in full force, her angelic, siren voice captured in oscillating takes that dance and overlap, and all reach a climax upon the chorus.
Grimes is one of the few artists who effectively channel punk spirit into electronic music. There are scant others — perhaps Container or Death Grips, but hardly any quite like Grimes. She has always been in a category of her own. Her early recordings were an incomparable mix of twee electronica and indie fare so quirky and eccentric that no one need even bother to attempt making a distinction between irony and sincerity at this point. Whatever it is, it’s wild. In every recent record, she has taken her signature aesthetic forward, moving steadily past, to the point where there is no one that can fairly fit in the same category. ”Miss Anthropocene” eases back slightly from the fire and fury of her previous album, in terms of steady onslaught. Which is altogether an advantage, as a few tracks showcase entirely unanticipated directions for Grimes, and the others pack in a surfeit of intensity that deliver to the maximum on passion and personality.
“Miss Anthropocene” is available Feb. 21 on Apple Music.