After nearly five years since the release of her last record, electro-dream-pop icon Grimes (Claire Boucher) has finally put out the highly-anticipated album “Miss Anthropocene.” Supposedly, it’s a concept album about “the goddess of climate change.” However, Grimes’ ambiguous lyrics are hard to measure up to this claim.
When Grimes discussed the ideas behind individual tracks on Apple Music, it’s difficult to find a link between her original concept and what the songs are actually about: pregnancy (“So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth”), mourning suicide (“Darkseid”), fan-art of film “Bajirao Mastani” (“4ÆM”) and “political apathy” (“My Name Is Dark”). Even more convoluted is her declaration that “each song is supposed to represent a new god.” The only song that relates to this idea is “New Gods,” which explores how new deities would differ from old ones.
The album theme feels as if it was abandoned; if it wasn’t, then it was simply poorly executed. The songs’ themes and lyrical content have little to do with climate change, as Grimes’ choruses echo vague phrases like: “unrest is in my soul” (“Darkseid”) and “I get lost” (“Before The Fever”). Grimes has always crafted songs with ambiguous words, though on a concept album, detailed ideas would make her pieces significantly stronger.
However, if the expectation of the anthropomorphizing of climate change was never there to begin with, the album could be appreciated simply for what it is: a solid record.
Despite the issues of the album concept and its execution, “Miss Anthropocene” creates an immersive world of darkness and it’s musically stunning. Grimes has already established herself as a groundbreaking producer, and her new album only adds to her credibility. “Miss Anthropocene” is mesmerizing, cybernetic and otherworldly.
The album begins with a deep and heavy bass, accompanied by high-pitched, slow whispers on “So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth.” About five minutes in, the song shifts from its dark undertone to the uplifting murmurs of Grimes’ angelic voices layering on top of one another. It feels like the peaceful end to an apocalypse, but the album is just beginning. While the track has been criticized for its lack of structure, part of the album’s charm is that it’s heavily atmospheric. Recognizing its ability to create distinctive moods, tones and auras is a part of appreciating the experimental LP.
Low bass and reverbing voices kick off “Darkseid,” which features Taiwanese rapper 潘PAN (previously Aristophanes), who also featured on Grimes’ “Art Angels.” Her Mandarin rap is aggressive and fast: the perfect complement to the mellow beat and Grimes’ smooth, drawn-out vocals.
Then, there’s a shift from the deep, electronic blares to happier, guitar-oriented “Delete Forever.” The song slowly builds from an acoustic sound into layers of synth-meet-banjo and is tied together by Grimes’ voice as it ends with a violin outro. Grimes noted that she wanted this track to be “the opposite of what Grimes normally is,” which is exactly how it sounds. Instead of echoes and layers of electronica blending together her ill-defined voice, “Delete Forever” favors classic instruments and clearer vocals.
The fourth track is pre-release “Violence,” which begins with breathy murmurs and upbeat synthesizers. In contrast to the previous song, “Violence” can be recognized as being Grimes-produced on the first listen, yet doesn’t sound as obscure as opening tracks “So Heavy” and “Darkseid.” There’s intense reverb, layered beats and a bone-chilling swell of synthesizers mid-track.
So far, these songs demonstrate Grimes’ versatility. While the lack of uniformity of “Miss Anthropocene” has been criticized, the individuality of each track is part of what makes the album engaging and enjoyable: It constantly shifts and calls back to different moods and atmospheres.
“4ÆM” blends sweet vocals with harsh sounds. The song is mysterious and eerie, starting with soft hymns on top of a heavy beat and then joined by a gritty electric guitar. Grimes said the track gave her “a bunch of ideas of how [she] could make things sound super future [on the album],” as it was the first track she produced.
Smooth and gentle voices begin “New Gods.” Grimes said she was aiming to give the piece the feeling of a movie score, and she succeeds. The haunting track retains its elegance through reverbs, hums and strings building onto one another.
“My Name Is Dark,” according to Grimes, is supposed to sound like “roaring beasts.” While the song starts with her signature high-pitched vocals, she draws out the last line of her lyrics into a screech. Then the chorus, “I’m not gonna sleep anymore,” echoes like a distant roar. In contrast to these roars, she swings between harmonious and cacophonous. While this sounds extremely unpleasant, Grimes manages to piece these contradictions together into a layered electronic dance piece that’s hypnotic. While she follows the basic structure of verses tied together by a chorus, the song remains unconventionally remarkable.
The eighth track, “You’ll miss me when I’m not around,” is a catchy and upbeat electro-pop song that sounds like it could have come off of “Art Angels.” Its charming and carefree atmosphere is a nice break from the dark and apocalyptic vibe the previous tracks captured. However, that break ends with the following track, “Before The Fever,” which sings, “This is the sound of the end of the world.”
Slow, dark and heavy, “Before The Fever” is supposed to symbolize “literal death.” The song is melancholic yet peaceful, primarily composed of hums and murmurs that reverb into one another on top of a low, sedate electric guitar. If the end of the world sounds like this, it’ll be an idyllic apocalypse.
The last track of “Miss Anthropocene” is the cheerful “IDORU.” It begins with birds chirping and uplifting strings and synths. If “Before The Fever” is death and the end of the world, “IDORU” is heaven. Grimes’ delicate voice accompanies the multitude of instrumentals added into the track as it builds and progresses, and then regresses, slowly stripping itself of the layers of sounds and ending the album.
Ultimately, “Miss Anthropocene” is experimental, innovative and subjective. It isn’t like the easy-to-listen-to electro-pop album “Art Angels,” though it does call back to some of Grimes’ earlier work. The album’s harshest critics condemn its excessive reverb, inconsistency and ambiguity — and it does have all these things; however, it’s what makes it distinctive. Grimes recognizes “that everyone wants deeper meanings and emotions”; however she also believes that, “sometimes just the joy of music is itself a really beautiful thing.”