Why do people like science fiction so much? Why do they attend ComicCon in full costume? What even is cosplaying? Is it for escapism’s sake alone? A fascination with what might come to pass in the future? It’s indicative of the genre’s (lifestyle’s?) pervasiveness in pop culture that you don’t have to be a diehard to feel the pull – don’t pretend you don’t own at least one Frank Herbert book or once watched all of the short-lived TV series “Firefly” in three days, and don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about when I compare Claire Boucher, the woman who was very appropriately a neuroscience student at Montreal’s McGill University before she started ascribing the moniker Grimes to her bedroom-crafted music and art, to The Fifth Element’s Diva Plavalaguna. Boucher’s not seven feet tall or blue but that’s pretty much where the dissimilarities end.
Her voice can bounce around within a range of operatic octaves from what might be considered the “normal” to the impossibly falsetto, and her music’s been otherworldly by intent – what with its percolating arpeggios and echoed synth planes – since she started putting it together in GarageBand in 2009 (her first release, Geidi Primes, is, of course, Dune-themed; it opens with a song called “Caladan”). The music Boucher makes is all-inclusive and hyper-maximalist, as though she’d decided to throw every cool sound she’d ever heard or could make with her voice into one song. In a zeitgeist where we’ve started valuing repetitive minimalism in electronic music, Grimes really sounds like the chaotic and ultimately irresistible future. The kind where everything is happening, all of the time.
Boucher calls Visions her first record, and though it’s her third full-length release it’s easy to see where she’s coming from. It sounds like the record she’s always been trying to make; chromatically glossy and clean, completely unified and assured. Boucher can make songs that sound like the soundtrack to zero-gravity fight scenes (“Eight”), sexy slow-burners (“Skin”), and hypnotic, hymnal ballads (closer “Know the Way”) – and she can make jams, straight-up irresistible electro-pop jams that cull as much influence from the delirious and heavily prescribed bubblegum of Korean pop music as they do from the familiar diva posturings of Western Top 40. See: “Nightmusic,” perhaps Boucher’s best song to date, so impossibly catchy it might have been designed in a lab, the dark, chilly “Circumambient,” the electrifying “Be A Body,” with its exhilarating midway-though break.
Whatever niche her songs fill, they fit together like puzzle pieces into something larger. It’s easy to say that Grimes has made another Dune-themed album, just not directly so, but making another Dune-themed album means making music within a prescribed world, fantastical as it may be. Visions excels because it is a vision, of something else, something completely new, something we can’t imagine but Boucher lets us glimpse for a second – her own meticulously crafted science-fiction universe. And no power in that universe can stop her now.