Key Tracks: “4ÆM,” “My Name Is Dark”
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(Review originally published on thefilteredlens.com)
A lot has changed since the release of Grimes’ last album, 2015’s untouchable “Art Angels.” The album’s mix of bouncy and eerie pop melodies rocketed the already-rising Grimes into a much bigger light, and placed near the top of seemingly every year-end list (overshadowed solely by “To Pimp a Butterfly”). In that time she’s come as close to a household name as someone who makes eclectic dream-pop would, all the while testing some fans and hyping up others with her surprise romance with Tesla/Space-X epic bacon dudebro Elon Musk. My opinion of her has soured, deeply, but my opinion of her music hasn’t. It’s difficult to weight the two against each other for her new album, but it’s a stellar album nonetheless.
From a sheer musical standpoint, “Miss Anthropocene” is a big departure from the conventional structures of “Art Angels,” and is more aligned with her older work. It’s a smart attempt to try and re-couple with the section of fans that didn’t approve of the last album’s conventionality. A majority of the songs across “Anthropocene” have a much more atmospheric tone, with sweeping synth and distant, largely indecipherable vocals and lyrics. At the same time, she ropes in some elements of nu-metal, much akin to the recent Poppy heel turn. The album’s only real bop is the excellent “4ÆM,” which punctures the format by adding some breakbeats.
Thematically, “Anthropocene” takes on a much darker tone than its predecessor (which wasn’t exactly a glimmer of hope, itself). The album follows a goddess of climate change who, very literally, wants to watch the world burn. Various songs address various apocalypses (think King Gizz’s “Murder of the Universe”) from climate change (“So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth”) to opiate addiction (“Delete Forever”). It’s a lofty ambition for someone who’s career was at a bit of a crossroads, and she pulls it off masterfully well. Some of the album’s slowest tracks, like “New Gods” and “Before the Fever,” don’t exactly demand immediate replays. But on the context of a full album, they highlight songs like the rapid “4ÆM” and the euphoric closer “IDORU” remarkably.
If Grimes is attempting to reconnect with her older roots here – and she may not be, but “Anthropocene” is similar to older releases like “Halfaxa” – then there is a contradictory elephant in the room. Grimes got her start in witch house, although she never felt fully encompassed in the genre. Witch house bands are inherently anti-technology, with some choosing unsearchable names like oOoOO and ///▲▲▲\\\. “Anthropocene” isn’t a witch house album, but the roots are still there, and the sentimentality is present. Early single “We Appreciate Power” (left off the album but available on deluxe versions) is sung from the POV of an AI propaganda machine. It’s a powerful message (and a great song). But it is easily misconstrued because of the POV as being some kind of pro-techno-fascist nightmare, and it’s telling that it isn’t immediately apparent that Grimes meant otherwise. Her coupling with Elon Musk, our era’s most worryingly successful techno-fascist, deems a lot of the album’s genuine concerns either contradictory or irrelevant. Not to mention, her faux-edgy Tumblr aesthetics feel a lot sillier this time around, with song titles like “Delete Forever” and “My Name is Dark” and lyrics like (seriously) “So we party when the sun goes low / Imminent annihilation sounds so dope.” I watched the film “Snowpiercer” for the first time last night (inspired by “Parasite,” not by this album) and knowing how Musk is developing super-transportation and accumulating ungodly personal wealth amidst a likely catastrophic climate crisis, it felt….on the nose. This, uh, musk, is extremely difficult to shake off while listening to “Anthropocene.”
That said, if you can look past that, or if you’re a fan of Musk and this partnership, then this still an incredible record. Glorifying and horrifying, Grimes plays to all of her own strengths. The album is almost devoid of bangers like “Kill V. Maim,” but as good as that song is, it never felt like Grimes’s comfort zone. From the eerily quiet intro “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” to the sonic vaccuum of “My Name is Dark” to the unexpectedly sweet finale, “Anthropocene” is a well-rounded and satisfying that, like her previous albums, is bound to get better with each listen. There is a lot to pick apart, especially in the urgency of some of the lyrics. But even just as a sonic experience, it feels miles ahead of “Art Angels” in scope and ambition, even in the quiet moments. I wasn’t sure what direction Grimes would take after “Angels,” but she really sticks the landing.
~By Andrew McNally