It happens quite often: An unknown chanteuse suddenly appears from the ether of 'underground' sounds and genres currently peaking in popularity and somehow rises into the public spotlight. They are usually either met with a resounding "meh" by tastemakers and left to the graces of the music-buying public, or critics jump at the chance to champion them as the latest 'It girl' and allot the requisite amount of verbiage and accolades that often come with such a title. And even though Montreal artist Claire Boucher has been releasing music under the name Grimes for a couple years now, she was only met with notable attention following her 2011 split EP with d'Eon, Darkbloom, attention which has since ballooned into widespread acclaim—like, say, a feature in Vogue—leading up to the release of her new LP, Visions. Suffice it to say, everyone has their critical eye on Boucher, and there's a lot riding on her new batch of homemade, experimental-pop tunes.
Visions is a unique and ambitious 48 minutes of music. Across 13 tracks, Boucher toys with the rhythms of hip-hop, house, and electro, unearths the melodic soul of all manners of pop and R&B (maybe even opera, too), and cherry-picks bits of noise, ambient, and classical music—reappropriating their elements and contorting each piece to fit her simultaneously visceral and ethereal sound palette. Early leaks "Genesis" and "Oblivion" offer the most accessible and infectious side of Grimes' experimentation; if those playfully sublime tracks aren't her best work yet, they're certainly the best place to start discovering what is. "Eight" and "Circumambient" expose the darker and dissonant forces at work within Visions, while further down the tracklist, "Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)" and "Symphonia IX (My Wait is U)" prove Boucher can remain catchy and danceable whilst working with more poignant themes.
Sonic diversity and rich musicality are obviously major components of Grimes' LP, but it's actually her voice that winds up being the main attraction. Boucher has about three or four different vocal personalities inside of her, all of them equally integral to the experience of her music. She can jump from a low, sultry croon to an elfish falsetto in a breath, all while layering those melodies with blankets of heavily treated harmonies. (She's likened her recording and production approach to Phil Spector before, and it seems that kind of obstinance in her home studio makes all the difference.) The effect her vocal gymnastics can have is exhibited best on "Be a Body (??)" and the arresting standout "Skin," when the arrangement is sparse enough to give Boucher's soft coos and stratospheric Mariah Carey-isms full reign of the mix. At times, it can be astounding how consistent and original Grimes sounds—both musically and vocally—even as she tries on so many recognizable hats.
There's no doubt that Visions is an excellent album. Though it may be Boucher's third proper LP as Grimes, it sounds like the debut of a young artist, which is to say there are some missteps—albeit a rare occurrence. "Vowels = Space and Time" is a fine track despite the production quality being oddly subpar, and it's almost maddening that the brief opener, "Infinite ? Without Fulfillment (Intro)," isn't allowed the proper time to grow into the full-fledged gem it could very well be. But those minor infractions barely make a ripple when listening to Visions; from a distance, they might even add to its inherent character and charm. Whether she likes it or not, Boucher will undoubtedly be heralded as 2012's 'It girl' once this record makes the rounds. In the midst of the photo spreads and in-depth interviews that will soon befall Grimes, hopefully the world won't lose sight of how she earned the status: by crafting some of the year's most challenging and rewarding pop music this side of MTV.