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The internet is as important to interesting music today as hallucinogens were in the sixties. The internet is the most fun you can have without actually enjoying yourself, and listening to Grimes’s second record ‘Halfaxa’, which has just been reissued by Lo, is as dissociative, as unfocussed and as awesome as the internet itself.
One of the most interesting interviews I saw with Grimes has her talking about Saturn and mystery and how infinite the universe is. The universe, like the internet, is too much for any of us to wrap our brains around and Claire Boucher, the woman behind Grimes, likes this idea. So, if it follows that a good album is a fluent translation of a person’s interior space, should it need to be fully grasped? Grimes is not meeting you halfway here, but demanding you lean in and you work around her sounds.
It’s worth the effort – ‘Halfaxa’, though not perfect, is a work of real beauty and depth. It’s steeped in its own mythology, or Boucher’s mythology: hyper-personal and starry-eyed. Weregild is named after the tribute owed by a killer to the family of the dead under the ancient Germanic legal code. Dragvandil is also the name of a sword in Final Fantasy XI. That my contact with these things, and presumably hers, is through a screen (hold tight, Wikipedia!) is entirely appropriate, and taps into that weirdly mediated ache those YouTube binges give you.
Sonically, the palate is admirably unique – Detroit techno radio rips, opera, the swirling loops of eastern devotional music, rave hooks and an R&B sheen are all part of her sound. Part of the strange, uncomfortable feeling on hearing this album is that there’s something almost too close, too private about these songs. They aren’t really meant to be heard, let alone probed until understood. River is delicate, based around an echo-laden vocal loop and a shifting bassline. When, on tracks like My Sister Says The Saddest Things, the pace turns driving, there’s something shifting about it – it moves the way it wants to, not the way you want it.
In contrast to her first album, and her forthcoming split with d’Eon, ‘Halfaxa’ is not an album about communicating so much as expressing, and as such, even though it’s a lovely-sounding record, it’s not the easiest of listens. The sounds are pretty, but brittle. Melody is there, but it’s packed in, bursting with it. The lyrics are deliberately unintelligible. There’s high pop influences from Mariah to Kate Bush everywhere, but they are estranged, tangled. Sometimes it’s dense, sometimes it’s loose and never is there an idea she’s concerned with the listener.
One of the confusing things about reading interviews with her is how quick she is to tell us about her lack of musical training. For one thing, it’s packed with hooks and is – after all my gumf about this being an abstruse album – really great to listen to, and you don’t get that without being a bloody good musician, and one with an exciting career ahead. But it also confuses because if this record has one thing to teach the listener, it’s that you have to accept another person’s creation as total. You can’t sit there like the whiny baby the internet turns us into, expecting the world to be exactly what you want it. Your job with music is to listen and accept and enjoy. To the extent that you do judge, you do so only by their standards, not yours. Grow up. Make the effort. Lean closer. Explore. Get in.