Grimes: Playing on Prefix

Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week:

Under the moniker Grimes, Claire Boucher released two albums in 2010: “Halfaxa” and “Geidi Primes”.

The latter features a track titled “Grisgris” — and if you’re familiar with Afro-Caribbean or New Orleans culture, you know a gris-gris is a talisman worn around the neck to ward off evil. It’s typically a little sachet containing a few trinkets in quantities of 1, 3, 5, 7, or 13. Separately, these baubles might be worthless — but in combination, they wield power. It’s the same principle that makes collages work, that makes mosaics into a gorgeous whole, and it’s pretty key to the appeal Boucher’s music holds.

The most oft-quoted soundbite Boucher has given regarding her art is that it’s “post-internet.” Of course, you could make the case that over the past decade, that’s an adjective that could be accurately attributed to most pop music. With so much music created over the past decades and the internet to facilitate the discover/acquisition process, it’s easy for any young musician to begin his/her career already savvy to a variety of tropes hailing from different points in pop music’s expansive timeline.

Even Boucher’s song titles are sort of “post-internet” — cheeky and referential in knowing ways that either depend on you having a decent pop culture background (“Venus in Fleurs”) or are just straight-up quips (“Beast Infection”). “Beast Infection” is a lot more than a gross pun, though; its combination of helium-saturated vocals and kitten-skittering-down-the-hall percussion is downright hypnotic.

By virtue of sounding sort of “dark” (she runs with the Arbutus Records crew and has a penchant for throwing Wingdings, Greek and Cyrillic letters, and other symbols into song titles), Boucher got lumped in with SALEM and other assorted “witch house” bands. But where the latter’s genre motley feels like aping and/or appropriation, Boucher’s reference points are apparent (a little bit of Cyndi Lauper, shades of Xiu Xiu, etc.) but not the sum total of her art. Her songs feel like fully formed, original visions, not like a teenager deciding s/he likes Houston rap and New Wave and dicking around with GarageBand until the result sounds like a lackluster imitation of both.

Some have deemed Boucher’s kitchen-sink approach to building songs and structuring albums scattered and distracting — and in less capable hands, it probably would be. Fortunately, she has a knack for being able to stitch together disparate sounds in a way that doesn’t sound calculatedly “experimental,” or worse yet, like she’s fumbling around in the dark.

Oblivion,” the first single off forthcoming fourth album Visions, showcases Boucher at her post-internet best: a patchwork of styles and techniques, the sort of music you can only make if you’ve listened to and absorbed a ton of music from a variety of genres.

Boucher’s voice is a great vehicle for her hyperactive approach to song construction: it’s highly distinctive, but also endlessly mutable — a clean canvas for whatever seems to strikes her fancy at the moment. She’s good at turning the breathy-voiced, ultra-girly trope on its ear, using her voice like an instrument that’s as adept at pitching the mood at “unsettling” or “jarring” as it is at the more oft-used “I’m tiny” or “I’m sexy.”

With a bigger budget, better equipment, and more conventionally “pop” arrangements, Visions promises to be a game-changer for Boucher. The songs are more accessible to your average listener, and she’s allowed herself room to explore yet another dimension of her talents. Nothing escapes the grasp of the internet, and no idea escapes the grasp of the post-internet musician.

By Susannah Young