REVIEW: Grimes delivers a dire warning call as Earth’s underworld angel on ‘Miss Anthropocene’

Grimes, Miss Anthropocene

The effects of climate change are overtaking the Earth, and people seem essentially powerless to stop it. What is a humble synth-pop producer from Canada to do? Grimes’ fifth album, Miss Anthropocene, presents a warning call and a goodbye letter to the planet as we know it. Claire Elise Boucher takes the darkest sounds and most advanced production techniques within her arsenal to craft her boldest and best album to date. 

Miss Anthropocene
4AD Records, Feb. 20

Perfect opener “So Heavy I Fell Through The Earth,” is an apocalyptic slow burn that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Grimes wastes no time constructing a gorgeous tapestry of ominous bass and delicate sparkling raindrops to contrast with layers of her whispery angelic voice. The combination of sounds communicates the weight of Grimes’ dark thoughts about our planet and future as they sink into us from above.

“Darkseid” ratchets the darkness up another notch with thumping bass and a trap beat. Grimes brings back rapper Aristophanes (who was featured on “SCREAM,” from 2015’s Art Angels), who unleashes a barrage of Taiwanese fury upon everyone and everything below her.

After two consecutive dark tracks, “Delete Forever” provides a moment of respite, where Grimes takes a step back and sings softly to some guitar and even a banjo. You’d think this is completely out of context for a Grimes song, but it’s actually refreshing to hear her expand her palette. She uses this moment of tenderness to express her exasperation with various addictions that have plagued her friends within the music industry.

Of course, it isn’t long until we’re dumped back into that icy pool of darkness with “Violence.” It throbs, billows and magically expands outward while Grimes takes on the role of Mother Earth. She looks upon humanity and deals with the abusive relationship that she’s unleashed on herself. The juxtaposition of Grimes’ feathery voice floating over the brutally gothic synth-pop landscape elicits strong feelings of power, unease, fear and a vague sense of dread. The back and forth of the massive backing track culminates when Grimes’ voice is pasted over itself multiple times during the climax.

“4ÆM” Doesn’t break free from the dread, but the tempo is sped up and we’re assaulted by a collection of organic instruments and a blistering drum-and-bass backbeat. Grimes takes turns alternating between a set of monotone rave vocals and frantically running around in no direction whatsoever. This is a song that was released as part of a promotion for “Cyberpunk 2077,” a video game, and this context is on point. It feels simultaneously futuristic and chaotic, backdropping a potential timeline where technology exists to prop humanity up through a decaying future of our own making.

Grimes plays up the duality of her personality on “My Name Is Dark” in order to declare her allegiance as a nightcrawler. While a grungy bass slithers in dying spirals, she alternates between sounding like a small child singing a nursery rhyme and letting loose with a bloodcurdling scream that stretches out across the horizon. Grimes’ technical prowess is highlighted here, as the technique she uses to create this vocal effect is simultaneously impressive and frightening.

After another set of brutally dark and depressing tracks, Grimes drops another lifeline in “You’ll Miss Me When You’re Not Around.” Similarly to “Delete Forever,” she uses peppy indie rock and a catchy pitched-up vocal bloop in order to keep our hopes up. Well, wait a second. On further examination, the song quickly delves into darkness as Grimes retakes the role of Mother Earth and delivers a forlorn suicide note to her people.

Finally, as Grimes rounds the final bend, she gives us a touch of honest inspiration for the future. Built out of a chirping forest and a simple mellotron line, “IDORU” is her love song for her people. Regardless of what happens to her and everyone else, she uses this light and playful outro to reassure us that we are loved, and in the end it will be OK.

In just a single decade, Grimes has grown from a young upstart into an indie darling and finally evolved into her current form as one of the most powerful and forward-leaning producers in music today. Miss Anthropocene is foreboding yet oddly hopeful; eerie, yet strangely comforting; impossibly heavy—yet still light and celestial. The essence of Grimes in 2020 is that she’s everything we’d want from her, but also all the things we didn’t know we wanted. Miss Anthropocene lets us lean into all the depressing and fearful thoughts we have about our future while simultaneously comforting us about it.

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