Claire Boucher's highly anticipated third album 'Visions' marks an undeniable progression from last year's sophomore release, 'Halfaxa'. Shorter and better produced, these thirteen tracks maintain that same experimental slant on synth-pop, dance and R&B sensibilities flowing over Bocuher's complex and multi-layered sound. I hoped without conviction that Grimes would return to the modest surrealism of 2010's debut 'Geidi Primes', but alas, my nostalgic whims were pushed aside by the cogs of fierce sonic revolution. Taking note of 90s IDM, Boucher's voice recalls that of Kylie Minogue and early Madonna, Little Dragon and even hints of Lykke Li emerging from the reverberated nous of Braids. Joining the ranks of Fever Ray, Zola Jesus and Julia Holter, Claire Boucher's 'Visions' are fascinating.
Singing in a constant falsetto, Boucher's voice is so lathered in reverb that occasionally I found it difficult to relate to. Ethereal and transcendent it may be, but there is definitely a distance here between artist and audience that could turn people off. The more you listen however, the more you appreciate Grimes and this refreshingly unnerving, and alienating aesthetic. The art for 'Visions' emulates better her exploration of witch-house sensibilities, forming an ambient inconsistency around the tracks that while perhaps not for everyone, certainly makes for an interesting and soothing and unique sound. There are a couple of moments on the album that don't work vocally though, the first being 'Eight's Alvin and the Chipmunks-esque pitch and the second being 'Vowels = space and time's strain. Boucher pushes her voice far too hard, losing that effortless, alluring intoxication present on album highlights 'Genesis' and 'Oblivion'.
Opening with 'Infinite Without Fulfilment', a darkly sensual and mysterious tone prevails, a spray-can shaking through the backing track's Squarepusher-inspired percussion. Drum machines meet autotuned vocals, combined with subtler, more natural, bouncy refrains. A moody finish leads straight into 'Genesis', 'Visions' lead single. Oriental and dreamy, there is a saddening innocence here, throbbing and pulsating beneath Boucher's airy singing and strikingly light electronic instrumentation. A synthesiser plays out a shockingly boring scale before 'Oblivion's contrasting synth work swirls in a hazy midnight ballet. More dark undertones are added to the mix, channel-hopping percussion bouncing between curved, warped walls. 'Circumambient's marriage of experimentation and perfect pop melody make it a stand-out song, echoes and a 4/4 loop danceable and spacey and catchy all at once!
'Visiting Statue's simple transition from stark to layered is presided over by an ambiguous and repeated verse, haunting in its purity and stifled distress. 'Be a Body' follows, putting the same exertion on the vocals as 'Vowels = space and time'. Broken by an indistinct and attenuated set of silvery verses, shimmering under reverb and a cavernous echo, 'Be a Body' precedes 'Colour Of Moonlight'. Featuring Doldrums, it switches between choir-like fragility and one provokingly ominous thought. The layered vocals and build are at their most subtle, 'Nightmusic's post-classical vibe a worthy successor to their nuanced charm. Concluding with 'Skin's beautifully sheepish suggestion of love, and then 'Know the Way's almost celestial elegance, 'Visions' retains your attention from beginning to exquisite end!
'Visions' instrumental ability isn't the best, but its gloriously rebellious experimentation and lack of conform means it might just be the most individual and daring pop record this year! One line from 'Skin' sums the album up perfectly; "You touch me within / And so I thought I could be human once again". A new era of electronic pop music has been ushered in by Grimes, a woman whose delight in the fantastical makes up for her every flaw. Focused in style and assured in production, Claire Boucher has, after two albums, hit her stride. Does she show any signs of slowing down? You can bet that she doesn't. Hear 'Genesis' below!