Claire Boucher works across many media. In addition to making music, the restless producer and mesmeric voice behind Grimes is an artist (she makes her own album covers), a filmmaker (she directs her own music videos), and a dancer (she choreographs them). Her most ambitious project, though, may be herself. Over a rush of ever-stronger records—beginning with two patchy but fascinating 2010 LPs, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, and continuing with a 2011 split EP with D’Eons that tempered her avant-garde impulses, Darkbloom—she’s molded herself into a bizarro pop star, bridging the chasm between the leftfield home recordings of so many cassette-only releases and the picture-book confections of her idol Mariah Carey. On her 4AD debut, Visions, she continues her march toward accessibility, rendering hazy, quixotic sketches into tangible, hook-heavy electro-pop.
Like all Grimes albums, Visions was tracked alone in Boucher’s bedroom and pieced together on GarageBand, but it’s crafted with such attention to detail that it makes its predecessors feel like test runs. The album’s big dance pieces, “Vowels = Space And Time” and “Be A Body,” are the first Grimes tracks that could play in clubs. The cleaner fidelity and tighter song structures haven’t hampered Boucher’s sense of exploration, though. She still cycles through influences voraciously, using sprightly Korean pop, Cocteau Twins-styled dreamscapes, and Depeche Mode’s nocturnal synths as springboards for ever-weirder explorations. In other hands this lattice of unrelated strains of dance, New Age, bubblegum, and R&B could collapse under the weight of its own busyness—or worse, its own preciousness—but Boucher’s command of mood is so strong, and her ear for melody so selective, that she handily avoids those traps.
Visions is anchored less by Boucher’s voice, a small but versatile falsetto with unexpected range, than by her personality, which grounds even the album’s oddest digressions with sweetness and sensuality. She sings mostly in a cryptic blur of impressions, preferring expressive sighs and squeals over complete thoughts, but the lyrics that are decipherable leave a mark. On “Oblivion,” Boucher pines for the simple comforts of romance, and on the penultimate track “Skin,” she reflects on how physical contact forges emotional bonds. It’s Visions’ longest, saddest song, but it’s a fitting closer for a record that’s so evocatively textured it’s practically a tactile experience.