I think an underrated aspect of Visions is its consistency. The early twosome of “Genesis” and “Oblivion” is undeniably a highlight, but there are worthy cuts sprinkled throughout the album; it doesn’t sag in the middle, and closes strong with personal favourites like “Symphonia IX” and “Skin”. I don’t feel compelled to skip the more indistinct tracks when I know another strong one is just around the corner. I’ve also enjoyed reading reviews and longer critical pieces that have been written in the wake of Visions: off the top of my head, I really liked Lindsay Zoladz’ review of the album at Pitchfork, Mark Richardson’s latest Resonant Frequency column, and Julianne Escobedo Shepherd’s “Deconstructing: Grimes” on Stereogum. (Recommended reading!) Maybe it’s foolish of me to suggest a correlation between an album’s quality and the quality of the writing it spawns, but Visions seemed to bring out the best in plenty of writers kicking around the Internet.
When I think about Visions in tandem with the response it received, and some of the critiques lobbied at both the music and at Claire Boucher herself, I relate it to people’s reaction to Joanna Newsom around the release of both The Milk-Eyed Mender and Ys. There are parallels to be drawn between Newsom and Boucher, if you’re sniffing around: each woman’s voice proved the most polarizing element of their music, both have had their appearance detract from their content, and they’ve both been slapped with the label “weird” at one point or another. (Remember “New Weird America”? Remember Devendra Banhart?) The thin, flighty coo Boucher uses throughout Visions, as well as her application of vocal processing, detracts from her voice’s versatility: listen to the beginning of “Genesis”, where she sings with lovely tone and depth for a few lines before jumping to a less traditional, bouncier style. She can float between the influences of R&B and K-pop, or land in a digitized territory all her own. Visions is an album rich with detail, gnarled and dark in spots, and yet you don’t have to look far to find comments like ”As for Ms. Grimes, I see a lot of pictures and no audio, so I’ll make the only judgment I can: yes, I’d totally do her.” (Which, ugh, come on.) And although I can’t absolve her of all guilt in this regard, it’s similarly easy to bundle up those aforementioned avian vocal turns and her Minneapolis houseboat adventures into a tidy “Whoa, that Grimes chick is weird!” narrative. If Newsom was positioned at the forefront of New Weird America, Grimes is the current flagbearer (and only member) of Newer, Weirder Canada.
I don’t love Visions quite as much as Ys or Have One on Me just yet, but I think it’s unfortunate that Boucher suffers from a similar set of problems as Newsom (who, after three stellar records, is still fighting to overcome issues like this).
I mostly agree with this - the one thing that I’d note is that prior to Visions (her third album), Claire didn’t really get slapped with the ‘weird’ label or the ‘I’d totally do her’ grossness. I suspect this is just a result of a shift from being seen as one (very good) part of a larger musical scene or group of sounds (the Altered Zones universe, or in Montreal, Arbutus Records and affiliated artists) to being seen as a solo artist and specifically a female solo artist.
Which is depressing as all hell, because tbh I don’t see Claire’s ‘Grimes’ project as that different in location/mode than Tom Krell’s ‘How to Dress Well’. And yet, despite the fact that they’ve toured together, share an interest in engaging with their love for R&B and pop through more lo-fi and DIY music, etc. etc., you’re less likely to read about her ties to the rest of the ‘post-Internet’ (ugh) circle of R&B-appreciative P4K-types than you are to hear comparisons either to female R&B singers or ‘weird’ female electro singers.
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- dauthan said:I don’t really like Visions but the critical conversation has, indeed, been good. I think I just continually wish it sounded like the Mariah / k-pop smoothie it’s so often described as.
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