Photo: 4AD
by Sam C. Mac Music Pop Rocks

Grimes | Miss Anthropocene

July 30, 2020

Miss Anthropocene is the type of pop eccentricity that only an artist like Grimes could conceive of. 

Not since Bjork’s 1997 watershed Homogenic has a weird pop artist cast a masterpiece in the mold of Miss Anthropocene: a fusion of progressive sonics, compelling song craft, and high-concept ecological…stuff. It would have been difficult to imagine Grimes pulling this off a decade ago, when she was a true indie artist just breaking through with Visions — an album beholden to obfuscating aesthetics and lo-if experimentation, set to largely unintelligible lyrics, with the occasionally memorable tune. After 2015’s indellible Art Angels, though, Grimes the Pop Artist became a much more viable idea: Despite dismissing that album as “a piece of crap” almost as soon as she released it, Grimes had in fact managed to balance her eclectic taste with professional (self-)production and sharp writing, a decisive advancement of her craft that also tantalizingly hinted at the many directions in which she could take it. All that Art Angels really lacked — and one assumes this is also why Grimes so quickly soured on her most critically-acclaimed effort to date — was an album-minded sense of cohesion, which admittedly had never been much of an issue with those early albums.

Keep all this in mind and Miss Anthropocene starts to seem like the almost inevitable outcome: This is the best and most ambitious album of Grimes’s career precisely because it indulges in many of her most outlandish musical ideas, but tames them just enough to fit the contours of (adventurous) pop, while giving purpose to its every excess and unapologetic moment of sonic accessibility through a fittingly new-agey theme of dystopian struggle between nature and technocracy. Sprawling and spacey opening salvo “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” grinds on for six hypnotically hollow minutes, with thrumming bass lines and industrial noise soundtracking some of Grimes’s most gorgeous (and sensual) vocals. In contrast, the mostly-Mandarin language “Darkseid” (which features Taiwanese rapper Pan, whom Grimes first worked with on Art Angels) and the whirring beat collage of ”4AM” are both breathlessly claustrophobic dance tracks built around agro rhythms and wall-of-sound production dynamics. The pervasive din of dark energy on this album allows for songs like “Delete Forever,” with its bright acoustic guitars and heart-skippingly buoyant melody, to be more galvanizing and surprising than even the poppiest stuff on Art Angels was.

But what really elevates Miss Anthropocene is the assured production throughout; somehow, Grimes’s fantasy-world landscape seems as vivid a space as the technologically advancing Iceland that Bjork and her producers used as a blueprint for the sound of Homogenic. One could argue that earlier Grimes albums like Visions and Geidi Primes tread similar aesthetic terrain; the difference is that the world of Miss Anthropocene actually sounds like a fun place to spend an extended period of time in. As with Homogenic, and its intentional proximity to trip-hop and drum-n-bass, however abrasive and chaotic the production on Miss Anthropocene gets, the songs tend to tether themselves to genre signifiers: “Violence” is the kind of floor-filling European techno rave-up that Lady Gaga might record if her music was as adventurous as her videos, while “Before the Fever” and “New Gods” embrace the unapologetic drama of the power ballad. It’s a testament to Grimes’s musical evolution, though, that this album’s seven-minute finale signifies less any particular genre than a distillation of the sound of an artist who’s starting to create her own: If “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is all tentative uncertainty and gaping negative space, “IDORU” fills that space with euphoric emotion and sonic excess, approximating some hybrid of tropical house, shoegaze, and drone — but let’s just call it Grimes, because it’s hard to imagine anyone else pulling it off.

Published as part of Pop Rocks | Q2 2020 Issue – Part 2.