There’s this question of an artist’s point of view; it probably comes up in fashion and design more than anything else, but it’s a concern in all of the arts—the idea that the work comes from the fact an artist sees the form differently, from a place that only they can access.
So, typically when a critic is trying to review a record, they might try to find that point of view and bust it up, to provide us all some cultural touchstones to help process the music. Visions is really an album that does its best to defy that. Of course, there’s no doubt that Grimes has drawn from a sea of influence to craft her dark, structured, idiosyncratic sound, but those influences have all passed through a filter so thorough, have been pulled so far from context, that the most striking thing left is Claire Boucher’s point of view. Listening to Visions it seems deeply unlikely that there’s anyone sitting at home going “I wish I’d thought of this first.”
Ninety-six-second album opener “Infinite ? Without Fulfillment (intro)” starts out sweet and weird and fun, in a very familiar ’90s Top 40 way, but somehow manages to come off as ominous by the short track’s end. The song really ends up reading as a kind of Statement of Intent for everything that follows; Boucher’s studied pop approach presented alongside sounds and sentiments that are either tender and saccharine or ominous and abrasive. Visions’ penultimate track, “Skin,” is a slow, six-minute lament that sounds like a far-left approach to a pop star radio balladry; “Skin” is preceded by album highlight “Nightmusic (feat. Majical Cloudz),” a threatening, invigorating track that really stuns as it marauds around Grimes’ considerable ability to put together sonics in a way that doesn’t seem intuitive or borrowed, but still feels familiar.
If Visions has any obvious flaws, that’s probably where it lies. Stepping back from the record, it’s clear that there aren’t really any “bad” songs on it, but there’s some (“Oblivion,” “Genesis,” and “Nightmusic” belong to this group) that are so propulsive, and make the listener feel so strongly that Boucher has a line on something that no one else does, that the other songs are shadowed-in a little, and the record feels kind of uneven as a result. Conversely, when you pay special attention to a songs like “Be a Body” or “Symphonia IX (my wait is u)” it’s clear that there actually is some worth there.
It seems like there’s a special element at work in the hype cycle when it comes to female artists; if this is true it’s largely because there’s a degree of glorification and sexualization that attends the hype surrounding lady newcomers. There’s an eagerness present, to elevate and protect female artists who might fit the “next-big-thing” bill, that doesn’t exist in the broader realm of brand development. Maybe the best thing about Visions is that it makes it clear that with Grimes, questions of whether she’ll become another personality for us to howl over are beside the point; she’s exported to all of us her very compelling way of seeing, and now everyone has the chance to experience that too.