WORDS BY: HELLY MANSON ('19), NICK BYERS ('19), BETH TOWNSEND ('19)
A couple weekends ago Nick, Beth and I gathered in the Nics, to listen to Grimes' new album "Art Angels". None of us had listened to the album in its entirety and celebrated the occasion with Svedka and some kind of tropical juice Nick found in the communal fridge. What followed was a full-blown, three-person dance party in Beth's room, interrupted only by an encounter with her confused roommate. After this we composed ourselves and discussed Grimes' sonic transformation, "Art Angels", and pop music in general.
HELLY: I think we should discuss, the idea of this album being “too pop”, because that has been the thing that a lot of people have picked up on; the fact that Grimes has “changed”.
BETH: There was a lot of controversy when she released Go, because people thought she was completely navigating away from a more experimental path.
NICK: I guess she was still “experimental pop”, even then right? Her genre is pop.
HELLY: Exactly. She’s never shied away from the fact that she loves pop. She unabashedly says that she loves Mariah Carey and Taylor Swift. Apparently a lot of her friends in the underground experimental scene in Montreal disowned her after she released "Visions" claiming she was a “sell out”, which is why she moved to L.A. I think being surrounded by musicians who are at the nexus of alternative and pop made her feel more confident in pursuing a pop sound.
BETH: This album reminds me of Charli XCX in that it’s a little bit more of Punk-Pop, but it is still genuine to Grimes. It is easier to absorb and listen to than her other albums, but I think in a way she’s just mastered her craft.
HELLY: What did we think about the transitions in the album? I felt like some of them, especially towards the beginning, were sort of weird.
NICK: Yes like "California" to "Scream"! "Scream" is such an outlier on the album. I thought it was funny to hear it early on in the album, expect a more experimental route and then get the mostly pop album that we got.
BETH: "Scream" reminded me of her old stuff, where you’d listen to it and be like “Is she even speaking English?” But it felt sweet, like it was almost representative of herself. "Scream" to "Flesh Without Blood", was a way of transitioning weirdness to a pop route.
HELLY: I also felt like the sounds in this album were a lot more distinct than in "Visions". In "Visions" the sounds are a little bit “cloudy”, in that they merge together. On "Art Angels" every song and sound within it is so distinct and is definitely more intentional.
NICK: I mean not to relate it to the one album I relate everything to right now, but "To Pimp a Butterfly" (Kendrick Lamar), is similar because it hops around, you’re like, “What’s going on!? What’s going on !?”.
BETH: But "Art Angels" still has some direction, which is interesting. Same with “To Pimp a Butterfly”, you’re hitting different nerves but there’s still some flow.
NICK: Sonically it’s different, but there’s this flow of the genre and the thought. Also what did we think about "Art Angels"?
BETH: Like the title track?
HELLY: While we were listening to the title track, Beth and I were both like, oh my God! This is "Steal My Sunshine" by Len!
NICK: Can we play both the songs right now?
NICK: But, even the title "Art Angels" what do you get from that title?
BETH: I think it’s kind of representative of who she is, cause she’s such an art form herself. I just feel like it’s her performance art album.
NICK: Yeah it’s quite performative.
[Plays title track "Art Angels"]
HELLY: There’s this repeated guitar loop, which is also used in “Steal My Sunshine”. [Demonstrates the sound badly]
[Plays “Steal my sunshine”]
HELLY: It’s the repeated loop for sure. Oh, this song is so good.
BETH: It’s the same vibe. I think there are a lot of pop directions in "Art Angels". At some point I was like, this sounds like Gwen Stefani.
HELLY: Oh yeah! Which song was that again?
BETH: It was when she was spelling out some words. I think it was "Kill vs. Maim".
[Plays “Kill vs. Maim”]
NICK: What I describe Grimes as on this album is, me, five shots and half a joint deep at Eclectic. [Beth and Helly laugh] I’m just vibing and everything is great and I’m just dancing like nobody’s seen me and I’m only interested in dancing.
BETH: One thing I noted was that every single song about half-way gets really different and changes. It has a drop, or some sort of tension that builds and then is released. I think that’s an amazing quality of this album. At the beginning of “Easily” we were like “Ew”, but suddenly two minutes in, there’s this cool instrumental part that we adored. You can’t fully not like a song on this album, cause it will change into something different that you like.
NICK: But then maybe you can’t fully like a song on this album either?
NICK: Especially with this pop vibe. To a certain degree, pop music is supposed to stay the same. We’re supposed to have an idea of where the song is going. So, could we play this at our next pre-game? Probably not! We could pick and choose a couple songs, but probably not the album.
BETH: I was just about to say that you can’t pick and choose songs from this! Like, this was such a fun experience, because the entire album listened to, start to end, was amazing! You have to listen all the way through in order to fully appreciate it.
HELLY: Another thing I thought about was the difference in time it took to make "Visions" and "Art Angels". Altogether "Visions" took about a month, but "Art Angels" took nearly four years to write! It’s interesting because she threw away all stuff she wrote with "REALiTi" and then suddenly she released "REALiTi" and thought, Oh no wait! It got good reviews! It was good! Oh fuck!
BETH: She cares about what her listeners think. But, I think this album is going to attract so many more listeners to her fan base, because it’s so much easier to listen to than her other album. Everything’s gorgeous! She uses incredible instrumentation.
NICK: I mean I’d love to see one of these songs blow up.
BETH: During "Kill vs Maim" we literally danced, we all got up from our comfy seats and danced! I put it on my hype playlist just now.
HELLY: And, I mean this is a hype album, apart from like two songs. "Scream", in particular is an anomaly.
NICK: I don’t know whether "Scream" should have been on the album at all, to be honest. Although I thought it was interesting, with the rest of the album’s focus, l wonder what it brings to the table? What purpose does it serve?
HELLY: I feel like "Scream" could have been further on in the track listing. I don’t think it’s a third track, but I think it would have worked if it was track 7,8 or 9. This is kind of random but do you guys listen to Haim?
NICK + BETH: Yeah
HELLY: "My Song 5" is so different from the rest of "Days are Gone", but it’s track 8 and it works because it’s at that particular point in that album, that allows for something a little different. But if a song like that is track 3 on an album, it doesn’t really hold up. Your listeners still need to find a way in, and having "Scream" so early on in a pop album is alienating.
NICK: This is a pop album. Even though "Scream" is on there, even though the first half of "Easily" is on there. Let’s go dance!
BETH: I really enjoy this album. It’s different than what Grimes used to do and I think you can either choose the path of appreciating it for what it is, as if you’ve never had the context of Grimes. Or you can take a path, which I don’t think anyone should take, which is being like, Ok, well this is a pop album, it’s a sell out, I can’t appreciate it. Even though it’s well produced, has unique instrumentation, great melodies and consistency throughout. You shouldn’t bash it because it’s a pop album. It’s ok to be a little bit more mainstream.
HELLY: My sister listened to it yesterday. She’s a huge Grimes fan and was disappointed, but her reasoning to me did not seem valid. She said “Oh it’s so annoying how these amazing artists will just turn totally pop on you.” I was like, “But it’s not bad pop music! It’s good pop music!”
NICK: Let’s not lie to ourselves, this isn’t The Weeknd!
BETH: This isn’t Ariana Grande we’re listening to!
HELLY: The whole “too pop” thing is so stupid. “Too pop” is not a thing. It’s like “C’mon guys are you too good for pop?”
HELLY+ NICK +BETH: No one is too good for pop!