Canadian avant-garde electronic artist Grimes’ fifth studio album Miss Anthropocene, arrives after a five-year wait and comes fully armed with myriad sonic landscapes of longing, climate change, futuristic robots, apocalypse, destruction and dance.
These days, Claire Elise Boucher finds herself at the crossroads of critical indie cred and dizzying popularity. Counterculture icon and conscious-pop’s poster child by day, Grimes’ evenings find her in tabloids and on the arms of boyfriend, Tesla CEO and an entrepreneur of the celebrity stratosphere Elon Musk. Currently-pregnant with his child, Grimes though new to the media frenzy that surrounds her and its blinding lights of fame, still manages to find musical inspiration in the world’s darkness, her signature aesthetic. Still, Boucher has never been one to pay attention to the mainstream media’s reactions to her music and her intergalactic ethereal sound, intricate production work and a complete disregard for pop chart gimmicks keeps her at the cusp of indie fame and pop outlandishness.
What it leads to is an album that captures in its sound and style the toxicity engulfing our world and Miss Anthropocene is the soundtrack to an imminent apocalypse with Grimes conducting a one woman orchestra of digital and analog technology.
To Grimes, Miss Anthropocene is a reference to the anthropomorphic goddess of climate change and over the course of ten tracks, Boucher brings in representations of dark demi goddesses who warn about the impending extinction of earth, while reveling in its doom. Take a look at the album cover art, and you will meet the titular alter ego, a droid-like figure with angelic wings, being formed through digital process. The surroundings around her may be dark and ominous, but she has herself prepped up for a selfie and is ready for the mayhem that is set to unfold in the album within. And Miss Anthroprocene continues Grimes’ journey to grip her loyal audience with virtuosic production in its towering drums, dreamy keys, and fantastical vocal lines.
“Lately, I just turn ‘em into demons”
On Miss Anthropocene, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter and producer looks back on things that she lost and what the world around her stands to lose. The album begins with ‘So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth’ a track that feels like a cosmic fall yet marks the arrival of Miss Anthropocene on planet Earth. ‘Darkseid’ follows next as Grimes transforms into the diva of doom. Over a thundering beat, whispering vocals, a panic-stricken delivery from Taiwanese rapper PAN, and doomsday-like sirens ‘Darkseid’ sounds like the last day on Earth.
Next it flows into pensive broodings on lead single ‘Delete Forever’, an aching, melancholic, personal, dance-laced lament on losing her close friend and manager Lauren Valencia to Cancer in 2019. Over acoustic strumming and a hint of Banjo, the song also finds her grieving over lives lost young to drugs and substance abuse – “Cannot comprehend, lost so many men’ / ‘Flew into the Sun, fucking heroin.”
In concept and sonic delivery, there’s a lot to unpack here. On ‘Violence’ Grimes returns to her den of defiance with a disdain of mainstream media over a haunting rhythmic chant. Built over a groove from American electronic music producer Garett Lockhart (a.k.a. i_o), ‘Violence’ takes you on a techno trail of apathy and anger. Deeper into the track list, ‘Idoru’ is a paean of the lovestruck with songbirds chirping and hope in the air, while ‘You’ll miss me when I’m not around’ occurs in the aftermath of poignant romance. This trajectory between hope and despair gives Grimes another attempt at maintaining the dark tone of the album on ‘Before the Fever’. Over waves of electronic guitar and drums, Grimes coils into muted vocals as a feverish gloom takes over the song.
“New Gods”, perhaps the album’s strongest showcases an aching call for a new establishment, leaders and Gods in this dying world and rings out loud. The same feeling also holds true for the modern pop landscape. While the mainstream barrage of pop music may seem swathed with licorice-sweet, radio friendly, formulaic compositions, Grimes dares to stand tall as the voice of change, and a warning to what could lie in store if we make it too late to act for the planet.
But not every track on the album fits into the larger-than-life theme of Miss Anthropocene. On ‘4AEM’ Grimes brings in a sample from the Indian movie, Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’ and adds a futuristic, cyber spin to it. But this cross-cultural Bollywood experiment seems to interrupt the album’s flow and story and may act as the singular misstep on the otherwise flawless Miss Anthropocene.
With a sound that brings AI, robots, futurism, and a deep exploration of darkness, decay, death of our environment and selves, Grimes’ Miss Anthropocene might be the most off-center and unconventional album to receive a Times Square billboard ad. Miss Anthropocene took a long five years to arrive, but its concept, identity and futuristic vision is sure to stay as a landmark moment in indie experimentalism and the current state of Mother Earth, for years to come.