In the swirl of fantastical images surrounding the release of Grimes’s Art Angels, Claire Boucher has been seen with a battle-axe, a sword, a suit of armor, and a mouth dripping with blood. For the album cover, she drew a serpentine self-portrait with three bloody eyes. Whatever the underlying message, the primary implication is clear: Don’t mess with Grimes.
On first listen, there are a few moments on Art Angels when she’s obviously meant to sound as scary as the pictures would suggest. The first is “SCREAM,” which rides a scuzzy, heavy-metal bassline as Aristophanes raps in Mandarin about removing someone’s lifeforce and Grimes does the screaming. The second is when, amid the keyboard chaos of “Kill V. Maim,” Boucher growls theatrically from the point of view of a male vampire. And the third is on “Venus Fly,” a factory-floor spazzout that keeps getting louder as Janelle Monáe barks about disfiguring herself to avoid getting objectified while she dances.
The rest of the album may initially seem far gentler—more sugar rush than blood lust. There are compressed acoustic guitars that remind me of Sheryl Crow or Sixpence None the Richer, dance beats that evoke K-pop in their giddy density, and one Rihanna sample. Grimes’s singing voice is a high wisp that’s been called, to her annoyance, “girly.” But the truth is that there’s aggression even in the album’s prettiest moments. Grimes is taking what a lot of people would consider some of the least dangerous sounds in music and turning them into weapons.