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CD of The Week

Week of 2/24/20

    Grimes - Miss Anthropocene (4AD)

    Has it really been 10 years since Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, first graced our collective consciousness? On one hand, one might struggle to believe a decade has already passed since she introduced us to her particular brand of "post-Internet" cyber pop. On the other, one might struggle more to imagine a time when her music wasn't a part of the conversation, so seismic and instantly influential were both 2012's Visions and 2015's Art Angels upon release. In the years since, her profile has risen exponentially, signing with Roc Nation management, linking romantically with one of America's most prominent and polarizing billionaires and gracing countless magazine covers and ad campaigns.

    Her meteoric rise isn't unlike that of one of the great indie-pop stars of the previous decade, M.I.A. She too quantum leaped to the top of year-end lists and online news posts after releasing back-to-back masterpieces that still sound ahead of their time. She also enjoyed a professional dalliance with Jay-Z and romantic union with a member of the 1%. Both women courted their share of scrutiny and controversy in the wake of their success. Questions of privilege and authenticity followed their artistic and political stances in the wake of their respective relationships. Grimes has also pivoted from the kinetic, kaleidoscopic albums that made her a star to a darker, less immediate effort that revolves around sounds and issues that listeners aren't necessarily used to hearing from artists at this level.

    However, where M.I.A. used MAYA to shine a light on the sobering realities of government surveillance and bloodlust via an abrasive, atonal mosaic of industrial noise, Grimes uses Miss Anthropocene to render the increasingly dire climate crisis threatening the planet as a sci-fi dystopia soundtracked by seething grunge guitars and simmering trip-hop beats that only sporadically boil over into anything like her previous rave-ups. When those occur, as on the ever-escalating "Violence" and Bollywood-meets-Le Tigre standout "4ÆM", the results are irresistible. Even these moments show a restraint that was never felt before with Grimes's music.

    The songs surrounding them often feel more palpably referential than Grimes has in the past, due to the relative paring down of her sonic trickery. While even this approach yields a noteworthy moment or two ("My Name is Dark" nods to Smashing Pumpkins and Garbage in both sound and lyrics), it's hard not to notice the shift from past peaks, and even harder to decide if we should wonder or worry about where she could go from here. MAYA may have turned a lot of people off at the time, but no one could accuse M.I.A. of not thinking ahead with her music or trying to sugarcoat her message. Here, Grimes sounds like she's looking back, slowing down. Not the most prudent strategy when the conceit of your album is to make one of the most urgent issues of our lifetime "fun," however sarcastically.

    That said, there is still much to enjoy here. Grimes still has an acute ability to craft soundscapes that a listener can get lost in, even if there are fewer hooks to guide them this time. She delivers spectacularly on the album's title, if not wholly on its narrative. Misanthropic sounds that capture a potentially misanthropic mindset. Even so, one misses the dramatic push forward in what both Grimes and music, in general, can sound like after her last two albums. This time around, she simply sounds like Grimes. A more brooding, foreboding Grimes, but still Grimes. Then again, this time maybe that's enough.
    Review by Rob Huff

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