First Listen

First Listen: Grimes, 'Visions'

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Grimes' new album, Visions, comes out Feb. 21 in North America. i i

hide captionGrimes' new album, Visions, comes out Feb. 21 in North America.

Courtesy of the artist
Grimes' new album, Visions, comes out Feb. 21 in North America.

Grimes' new album, Visions, comes out Feb. 21 in North America.

Courtesy of the artist

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At 23, DJ and producer Claire Boucher has already released two full-length albums and the well-received Darkbloom EP in less than two years. Boucher, who records under the name Grimes, emerged from the Montreal DIY loft-space-turned-record label Arbutus. Her GarageBand-assembled assortment of vocal loops, dark beats and twisted effects sound as if they're meant to be enjoyed predominantly at night — or maybe under a single shaft of sunlight that breaks through to the dark corners of a dance floor.

Visions, out Feb. 21, is Grimes' first for the prominent 4AD label. Its dreamy, psychedelic dance-pop songs beg for the subwoofer to be turned all the way up. But they remain grounded in her voice, which leaps easily into a lofty falsetto; it's almost adolescent at times, like Aqua has been practicing with Mariah Carey. Boucher plays with her vocal and technical abilities, looping and piling up wails, purrs and sighs. She expresses feelings through wordless syllables, used for how they sound rather than to convey meaning. "Vowels = Space and Time," replete with these vocal runs, provides one of the album's most alluring moments.

After a short intro, Visions kicks in with "Genesis," with its moody bass melody and shimmering synth line swelling and giving way to Boucher's delicate voice. Then "Oblivion" draws you in with its fleshy, propulsive beat and a melody that calls back to Tiffany's version of "I Think We're Alone Now" as Boucher tantalizingly sings, "I'll see you on a dark night." Songs like these provide an irreverent soundtrack to late, sweaty evenings, but Visions is worth a whirl in headphones, too. Boucher plays games with panning her sounds — whether it's hocketing her own vocal "oohs" from channel to channel or dragging a sound of scraping metal from right to left in "Circumambient." This technique gives her songs a sense of movement, an element of sound design that should satisfy the audiophile, while those in it for the beats ought to find plenty to keep up the energy.

As the album progresses, Boucher's songs take a turn toward the contemplative. A requiem for a bygone lover, the sensual "Skin" presents her as both robotic ("Soft skin / You touch me with it / So I know I can be human once again") and deeply emotional ("You act like nothing ever happened / But it meant the world to me"). Visions reveals Boucher to be a promising young artist and producer with a clear vision. Her work from here on out will be worth close attention.

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First Listen