The old axiom no longer applies. In modern popular music, it is possible not only to gild a turd, but to gild it so copiously that consumers scarcely catch a whiff of the ordure underneath. The studio is everything: you no longer need to be able to sing, write a tune or play an instrument — with enough electronic manipulation your turd can still become an epic and convince the perpetually gullible rock and pop press that something Important is taking place. In a sense, then, the other old axiom is also redundant: in pop music today, you can fool all of the people all of the time.
The Canadian musician Grimes is not quite at turd level: there is some talent there, although I’m not sure quite what it is. Not writing songs, not singing, not playing anything — maybe a sonic imagination and a certain winningly grim froideur. And for this she is very generously lauded.
This album occasionally grabs the attention — in the faux-industrial motorik basslines of ‘My Name Is Dark’ and the keening falsetto that begins the track ‘Violence’: both of these tracks kind of coalesce into what you might call a ‘song’, if you were being kind. And there is a propulsion and energy to them.
For the rest it is the studio very cleverly at work, her voice soused in grandiose echo or elevated, like that of Pinky and Perky, into the stratosphere — vocals as just another instrument, endlessly manipulated. Fragments of melody come and go, swathed in deeply meaningful effects designed to imply gravitas — where there is, frankly, very little. Occasionally interesting, rarely arresting.