For the most part, Visions, the latest album from the one-woman project that is Montreal-based musician Claire Boucher, sounds like a 1980s pop album remixed by an extremely smart modern producer. The fact that this is all the work of one person, operating under the stage name Grimes, is evidence of Boucher’s impressive skill set. Within five seconds of the start of “Infinite Love Without Fulfillment” the template has been established: programmed drums, Boucher’s voice layered and looped over itself to establish a giddy choir, and then the introduction of minimal but prominent synths.
The strength of Visions, her first album for new label 4AD, and therefore one likely to establish her a much larger audience, is in Boucher’s ability to take these familiar and sometimes disparate components and reshape them into something that avoids simply being classified as another ’80s revival album. Visions is the work of an artist looking forward rather than backward, the work of someone who understands how to take what seem like very glossy, digital elements that are all surface and create something with an unexpected level of emotion and depth that stands up to repeated and compulsive listening.
On top of this, despite the album containing very few lyrics that obviously stand out as decipherable (Boucher uses her voice as just another musical element to manipulate) almost every song here is grounded in melody, and there are some pure pop gems on Visions. “Genesis” is like an exhilarating sugar rush, and “Oblivion” and “Vowels= Space and Time” both further display this addictive alchemy at the core of the album–intelligent layering, uncluttered production, an instinctive awareness of space–and they are both catchy as hell.
“Eight” and “Circumambient” introduce a darker side to Boucher’s music, demonstrating her uncanny ability to shift the tone without ever jarring. Visions is first and foremost an album rather than a collection of songs (something which is becoming more of a rarity in the iTunes generation). “Symphona IX (my wait is u)” is a startling concoction, backed my an immensely danceable beat but haunted at times by a ghostly choir that hardly qualifies it as obvious dance floor material. That song and “Nightmusic” show Boucher at her most experimental, and the latter song is notable for featuring a rare heavy bass tone that is never allowed to dominate the track’s production. It makes a nice change from those fratboy dubstep producers who think that skull-crushing bass is the only way to an electronica fan’s heart.
And then just before the outro comes “Skin,” a gorgeous return to the heart as focus, with a vocal that is clear and full of longing. It might be the most human song on the album, and its placement near the album’s end after its drift into more left field fare only serves to heighten the track’s impact. It works best as a culmination of all of the strengths of Visions. Grimes is a singular and unique talent, one who should not be punished for occasionally recalling the ghosts of Enya and Cindy Lauper (two very odd moments on an otherwise very fine album). Her signing to 4AD and subsequent step-up should serve as an inspiration to the Garageband generation. Our post-internet saturated music industry may give voices to too much mediocre home music, but there will always be an audience for the good stuff.
For more information on Grimes, including details of her Los Angeles show on Friday, visit her website.