Conversations surrounding a new or emerging artist in the music-sphere don’t get very far before someone feels compelled to assign a genre. Fair enough; if someone recommends a band to you, you’re going to ask, “What do they sound like?”
When the debut album from Grimes, aka 23-year-old Claire Boucher, started to garner some hefty media buzz, the consensual tag sticking to her work was “post-Internet.”
Now, I’ve heard post-rock, post-punk, post-grunge, etc. Tacking “post” to the front of a genre is just a way to describe it as an offshoot of the original; tweaking things here and there to create something that’s apparently different enough to warrant a prefix. But what the hell does post-Internet sound like?
Squishy labeling aside, “Visions” stands as a collection of synth-oriented pop songs with a shadowy urban feel. Seemingly influenced by the more ambient, electronic drones of artists like Aphex Twin, “Visions” is sometimes bouncy and danceable and at other times pensive and moody.
At its best, it’s simultaneously both, conjuring an aesthetic similar to that of an empty, snow-swept metropolis at night.
Boucher’s recent climb to notoriety in the broad spectrum independent music began through her work as a producer in Montreal, which shows.
“Visions” is a digital album through and through. Drum beats, layered synthesizers and filtered vocals are the weapons of choice here.
“Genesis” and “Oblivion,” some of the first tracks to be released from the album, are solid culminations of Boucher’s strengths.
What starts as something that would feel right at home on the “Total Recall” or “Blade Runner” soundtrack blossoms into something a little more elegant, thanks to Boucher’s delicate falsetto and ambitious synth work.
While most of the songs are pretty balanced between up-tempo electronica and gloomy textures, there remains an appreciated amount of variance throughout.
Boucher flexes her weird-muscles on tracks like “Eight,” which combines some pretty industrial robot noises with a pitch-shifted, chipmunky version of her own voice.
“Circumambient” starts with an impending digital stomp and the distant sound of jets passing by overhead, seemingly straight out of a scene from “Terminator.”
“Visions” isn’t all futurism and robots, though. Boucher shows an appreciation for ‘80s electro-tunes on songs like “Vowels = Space and Time” and album closers “Skin” and “Know the Way.”
Herein lies the weakness of “Visions,” which is none too serious; they simply to lack the propulsion through Boucher’s unique artistic scope built on the rest of the record to make someone say, “Yeah, this sounds like a Grimes song.” Unfortunately, they sound more like an Aqua song (“Come on Barbie, let’s go party”).
But the question remains, is a Grimes song best described as post-Internet? Does “Visions” help us understand what that might mean? Yes and no.
The 20-something artists that grew up alongside the Internet are time and time again referred to as the “DIY (do-it-yourself) movement.”
The music associated with that culture (perhaps you’ve heard the term “chillwave”) was eloquently described by Jon Pareles of the New York Times as “solo acts or minimal bands, often with a laptop at their core and they trade on memories of electropop from the 1980s, with bouncing, blipping dance-music hooks (and often weaker lead voices). It’s recession-era music: low-budget and danceable.”
Sure, that all seems applicable to Grimes, but what may separate her from chillwave or the countless other people making music out of their bedrooms is her acute awareness and artistic depiction of an increasingly digital world.
Who’s to say whether that’s an ugly transition or not, but it’s what we’ve been dealt; and you’ve got to respect an honest artist for calling it like they see it.