I was really excited to write about Visions for Pitchfork’s “decade so far” albums list this week. This is what I wrote:
"Everybody thinks that I’m boring/ Many people think I’ve got no clue." There’s not a chance these words apply to Grimes in 2014. But when Claire Boucher sang them on her debut tape, 2010’s Geidi Primes, she sounded more than a bit defeated, as if caged in her mind. Listen to any of Boucher’s cassette recordings from that era in succession with 2012’s Visions, and the truth reveals itself: Aside from being one of the most monumental “post-Internet” releases in any genre, Visions is the sound of a young web-addled person who continued believing in herself long enough to become free.
“Modern” is the only word for Visions, an intensely nuanced master-work of pop collage, pegging down bubblegum synth-pop and 90s R&B and K-pop and metallic IDM with Boucher’s distinctive falsetto, variously featherlight or fierce. Along with 2012’s "Vanessa", Visions soundtracks Grimes’ ongoing claim for space in the continuum of great pop eccentrics. In the time since its release, this record has become omnipresent; at least in New York, I cannot go a week without hearing it at some bar or café, but most often it loops in my head, an antidote. It is hard to imagine that Grimes used one of these little boxes in front of us to make magic. The Internet can be a kind of prison—with its subliminal trappings of tabs and streams and data-mining likes and tweets—but Grimes’ ability to morph the endless nature of web culture into something that is pointed and pleasurable gives me hope. It is a more appealing expression of infinity, sung from a high-pitched human heart, one of ecstasy, hurt, and calm bliss.
Amid comparisons to fellow “Small Pop" case-studies like Sky Ferreira and Solange, it can be hard to remember that this is a girl who, just five years ago, tried sailing down the Mississippi River on a DIY houseboat with live chickens and 20 pounds of potatoes. A streak of self-reliance still pervades her music and its encompassing world of video, performance, and written word—a gravity center for fans of both mainstream and underground music, if those words have retained any meaning. Boucher has now tried writing for Rihanna, but the occasional wordlessness of Visions reminds me more of Elizabeth Fraser. She is at once signed to Jay Z’s management firm and an inspiration to Kathleen Hanna, who has noted her admiration of Grimes’ “feminist electronic punk” music. Last year, when Allison and Katie Crutchfield (of Swearin’ and Waxahatchee) covered the album’s greatest achievement, “Oblivion”, Katie commented on the song’s theme of street harassment: “It’s something a feminist punk band would write about,” she said. “I felt politically aligned with [“Oblivion”].” Boucher’s own list of the “Greatest Songs of All Time" put Mariah Carey alongside Butthole Surfers. Grimes’ seemingly endless power lies in these multitudes—Visions is some kind of nirvana, capturing every element at its peak.