Grimes, “Halfaxa”

People like Grimes, apparently.  They should.  But for someone new to her who wants to do a little research before writing about her latest record, Halfaxa, it’s difficult to avoid the praise.  Here’s what I know, from her MySpace – she’s Canadian, from Montreal.  Her real name is Claire Boucher and she is a conceptual artist.  She has paintings and hand drawn show posters for sale.

(A side note: MySpace still takes forever to load.  Why do artists insist on using it?)

There is no Wikipedia entry for Grimes.  Which is weird, because most artists with a record out for more than a few months (Halfaxa was released in October) have at least a biographical and track listing.  It’s a black hole of information except for the near universal love for Grimes and Halfaxa.

I won’t disagree.  Halfaxa is a hypnotic 45-minute journey of synth, pop hooks, and haunting vocals.  It dances and moves.  The drum machine and bass lines propel the album forward from mesmerizing track to the next.  The vocals are less-than-conventional.  It’s more sounds and harmonies and looped hooks than anything, but it works well.  Halfaxa is a great electro-pop record.

It seems straightforward at first, but then it isn’t.  You think you’ve heard it before because Grimes starts with a simple concept, using a machine to make an electronic record.  The beats and synth are uncomplicated but they pop off in different directions when you least expect it.  Sometimes they meander and at other times they bring the dance floor to you. or you to the dance floor.  Ms. Boucher knows how to put a song together and constructs the tracks on Halfaxa incredibly well.

You quickly realize that the simple beats are a plate on which to pile layer after layer of beautiful vocals and other sounds.  The vocals become the key to the album.  The float, they fly, they wrap around your head – sometimes all at once.  There is a bit of everything in the record – Dance, R&B, pop, a little goth, punk.  Maybe not punk, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were there.  Ms. Boucher plays with it all and puts it all together in a way that makes you want to listen to the album over and over.  Because it moves in more than a few directions, you don’t tire of it.  There is always something new to pick up.

For example: At the moment I’ve listened to Dream Fortress on repeat, over and over, because I know there is something there that I’ve heard before.  Or, at least, I think I have.  I like that, it’s a challenge and I will figure it out.  Grimes has accomplished something: the song is good and I’m not sick of it yet, despite being caught in a loop of my own.

Apparently this is a pretty DIY piece of work.  Ms. Boucher recorded everything right onto her computer and mixed it.  The DIYness works.  When you listen you get the sense that there is room for the music to grow, that it could be bigger. I’m not sure that would work for this collection of songs. I think a producer may have made this a less great album.  A producer would have wanted to use the bigger sounds of a studio and then there would be nothing else to listen for.  A producer may have reigned-in some of the wandering that makes Halfaxa so dynamic.  And fun.

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