The Fire Hurts So Right: Grimes’ Art Angels

[Editor’s note. All of the art in this piece that isn’t Grimes’ – it’s Cathi’s. She is mad talented and I am so excited to have her words and her artwork here.  -A]


Talking about Grimes is fucking intimidating, you guys.

Her new album is stupid good. Like, stupid good.

It’s addled with a cheerful aggression and a confidence that’s feminine and coarse. It’s poppy and spooky and bloody and powerful. This is the kind of music that makes me want to stand on a rooftop and screech about how we need to show our female producers more love. There’s beauty in the technical.

Art Angels album cover, Claire Boucher

Art Angels is three days old now, opening with a swell of baroque-inspired strings backed by a heavy beat before evolving into the operatic tones that Grimes, the goddess that she is, makes with her lungs through some sort of magic that I’ll never fully understand. It becomes spooky. It growls. There’s a whirring that builds and builds before transitioning into a poppy number while she croons, this – this music makes me cry.

Me too, Grimes. Me too. The first time I listened to Art Angels I was exhausted, hungover just enough to feel it and riding a bumpy bus to work. You know those songs that double as a jolt or a burst, a collection of sounds that ripple and roll in just the right way, giving you a burst of energy and joy, no matter how you’re feeling? The second I heard her wailing the word ‘California’ I couldn’t help but let my whole head get swallowed up in a smile. The things they see in me, I cannot see myself. When you get bored of me I’ll be back on the shelf.  And when the ocean rises up above the ground, baby – I’ll drown.

If I’m being honest, the single “SCREAM” (our lord and savior Boucher’s first track producing for another artist as the primary vocalist, a Taiwanese rapper named Aristophanes with a really, really good soundcloud) did a better job of tiding me over than the fucking incredible video made for “Flesh without Blood” and “Life in the Vivid Dream”. Aristophanes’ vocals are sharp. They snarl and bite. They have claws that aren’t afraid to draw blood.  There’s something that I find beautiful about language barriers in music. It’s like, when I don’t understand the words being sung it turns the human voice into even more of an instrument than it was before. It’s abstracted. In the case of “SCREAM”, I had no fucking idea what Aristophanes was singing about until Grimes posted an English translation to her tumblr. As someone who doesn’t speak Mandarin, all I had to connect to was the venom and bile that fueled her words. There’s a sharp femininity to the track – one that takes no shit and is in control. It’s an anthem for a vengeful swamp witch, and reading the English equivalent of what she was singing while listening only made it better. If you can’t scream then swallow it down.

Can we just talk about how fucking amazing it is that Boucher does basically everything in her work herself? She didn’t just star in this masterpiece of a video – she wrote, directed, edited, art-directed and even color-corrected the entire thing to give it its hyperreal, neon glow. She produces, engineers, writes and performs all of her music. She drew something for each track on the album. It’s pure Boucher, and Grimes is the vehicle she uses to drive it forward.

I’ll never be your dream girl.

There’s something very pop about Art Angels that wasn’t as present on Visions. There were moments there where it felt like Boucher was toying with pop and testing its waters, but Art Angels is full-blown, poppy madness. It isn’t something to pigeon-hole, though – each track is as experimental and genre-bending as works produced by legends like Björk and Beck. Boucher isn’t afraid to experiment in her work, and is clearly comfortable in the role of a producer-engineer. Grimes is the alter ego she slung together to hold it all into place, creating a cohesive whole of avant-garde experimental pop.

VenusFly ft janelle monae
illustration for Venus Fly ft. Janelle Monae, Claire Boucher

Each track on Art Angels is very much its own, standing out while forming connections with the others – they are bold and bright, unforgiving and loving. They’re all delicious in their own right, coming together to create something beautiful and cohesive in its strangeness and curiosity. Give it a listen.

Just listen.


Cathi Beckstrand is not a writer, but she does feel comfortable self-identifying as a visual artist. She is based in San Francisco, posts a lot of drawings on instagram and sometimes remembers to put them on tumblr.

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