Grimes’ Miss_Anthropocene Veers on Incoherent

Claire Boucher strains for meaning on her hotly anticipated fifth album

Music Reviews Grimes
Grimes’ Miss_Anthropocene Veers on Incoherent

In 2013, Grimes helped to crystallize the then-burgeoning poptimist movement when she defended mainstream pop music and praised Beyoncé’s feminist bent. In recent months, now long removed from her ominously euphoric 2012 cyborg-pop landmark Visions and its punk-embracing 2015 follow-up Art Angels, the artist born Claire Boucher has instead espoused musical pessimism. Last November, she was lambasted for saying that artificial intelligence could soon render live music obsolete.

In a vacuum, this opinion might sound ridiculous. Within the context of Boucher dating Tesla CEO Elon Musk—who’s as known for his tech innovations as for his rampant internet trolling, union-busting and GOP donations (the latter two of which Boucher has defended)—this notion is still ridiculous, but it’s not unexpected. After spending so much time around someone long accused of not actually understanding science, it’s only natural that Boucher would begin spewing drivel.

Boucher’s pitch for her long-awaited Art Angels follow-up, Miss_Anthropocene, similarly veers on incoherent. In a now-deleted Instagram post, she described Miss_Anthropocene as “a concept album about the anthropomorphic goddess of climate Change [sic]” and said “each song will be a different embodiment of human extinction as depicted through a Pop [sic] star Demonology [sic].” A subsequent conversation between Boucher and the now-peaking Lana Del Rey correctly hinted that Miss_Anthropocene would forgo Boucher’s longtime iconoclasm for vacuousness. If Art Angels flamboyantly tossed pop, dance and nu-metal sounds onto a wall like a Jackson Pollock creation and rendered its characters—pathetic man-babies who replace empathy with being well-connected, women so scary that men don’t even look their way—with Bruegel-esque detail, then Miss_Anthropocene often paints in broad, unengaging strokes.

Looking for deities, climate change, demons or anything of that sort on Miss_Anthropocene takes more effort than most listeners might care to muster. Take “Darkseid” as an example: The track’s throbbing, captivating bass line happens to be among the album’s most musically engaging moments, but Boucher’s “We don’t love our bodies anymore” refrain at most blurrily depicts the disheveled state in which people find themselves as the world around them crumbles. “4ÆM” likewise sounds great but comes off as babble: The chorus explodes into a glorious volcano of drum and bass—Boucher has, graciously, retained her signature ability to enliven oft-maligned genres—but its most discernible lyrics are just Boucher brattily chanting “na na na na na!”

Where these two songs burst with fervor, Miss_Anthropocene’s other tracks often stumble and limp. Though “Before the Fever” does explicitly mention apocalypse (“There’s only one way out / This is the sound of the end of the world”), the music is so simultaneously tacky and arena-sized that doom would be a fair reprieve. The narrator of “New Gods” prays to novel deities while the world burns, but the music surrounding her invocations is too flat to be holy and too soft to be Satanic. “Delete Forever” is woven from the same acoustic shuffle as Art Angels’ galloping “Belly of the Beat” and “Artangels,” but the new fabric just isn’t as warm or enticing.

“Delete Forever” at best distantly ties into Miss_Anthropocene’s themes: Boucher has said that she wrote it about the opioid epidemic on the night of Lil Peep’s overdose. She also reckons with drugs on “My Name Is Dark,” on which she praises them, and she’s admitted that she strained to relate this song to the record’s arc. “That was pulling the song back to the album thesis,” she told Genius about the lyrics “She said to God / ‘Unfuck the world, you stupid girl.’” She then explained that “Miss_Anthropocene is for the goddess of climate change”—and here’s the kicker—“or whatever.” Even if Boucher is clearly not dedicated to the whole “anthropomorphic demons and goddesses” bit, at least “My Name is Dark” frolics with that classic impish Grimes charm as it cannonballs into the grunge and nu-metal sounds with which Art Angels merely toyed (plus, it contains those long-iconic Grimes squeals, a touch sorely missed throughout Miss_Anthropocene).

Only one Miss_Anthropocene track addresses man-made climate change and apocalypse in a deeply considered, impactful way: second single “Violence.” Here, over a beat that sounds like the long-lost disco sister to Art Angels highlight “Flesh Without Blood,” Boucher uses the push-pull of a toxic relationship (“You feed on hurting me, off hurting me”; “You wanna make me bad, and I like it like that”) to symbolize how human activity and climate change exist in a destructive, interdependent cycle. Such subtle, effective metaphors and narratives are sparse throughout Miss_Anthropocene, an album on which, the more Boucher leans into her most elliptical interests, the more her music threatens to become exactly what she fears: obsolete.

Revisit Grimes’ 2013 Daytrotter session:

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