Grimes, XOYO, London
Monday 14 May 2012
Grimes is Claire Boucher, a 24-year-old Canadian whose fourth release in two years, the album Visions, has seen her get a lot of attention: everything from a Dazed & Confused cover, shot by Hedi Slimane, to a solid appearance on Later..., to Pitchfork reporting on a range of 'pussy rings' she's launched inspired by, yes, her own vulva.
She's know to spout academic meets hipster meets hippie nonsense about her music: “The creative process is a quest for the ultimate sensual, mystical and cathartic experience and the vehicle for my psychic purging.” Christ.
Fortunately, I heard her album before I heard any of that, and it was an untainted joy. Complex, looped electro structures are sprinkled with gossamer falsetto vocals, which in their very cartoon cutesiness become slightly unsettling. Her songs can be as shimmeringly polished as any manufactured pop hit but there's an intangible oddness to it too, like someone laced your candyfloss.
Live, she offers us all of the above, plus an added lead weight of hard, heavy, nose-tickling bass. After requesting “can the lights be, like, darker?”, the opener bangs out a housey beat, while Boucher flicks in vocal ticks, performing an angular shoulder shimmy over her bank of synths. Behind her, backing dancers windmill their arms, like it's 5am on Saturday morning, not 9pm on a damp school night.
She's dressed in a neon yellow furry jacket, which nods as much to Big Bird (as my colleague Hugh observes) as it does to rave culture. It's an apt mix: Boucher is half bubblegum pop, like a twitchy teenager channelling early Madonna, and half impressive DJ, witchily coaxing out dark magic from her synths and samples, fiddling with knobs with complete focus while the dance floor burns.
On 'Be a Body', a track that certainly owes a debt to Nineties club music, the harder dance elements are brought to the fore; 'Oblivion' layers up at least three catchy melodic lines and rhythms before adding robotic whirrs and electronic squelches. The lyrics contain a promise that might be a threat - “See you on a dark night” - as well as kid-overdoing-it vulnerability - “I need someone to look into my eyes and tell me/Girl you know you gotta watch your health.”
But her arrival suggests electro-pop, at least, is in a healthy place: her music is shiny yet authentic, fun yet unnerving, retro yet very, very much of it's moment.
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