- When Claire Boucher released Visions in 2012, her rickety electronics and wispy high register cut a line through the dance underground and the indie-rock world. Irresistible melodies and lyrics surfaced from the DIY haze on tracks like "Genesis" and "Oblivion." The latter became Boucher's signature song, an account of sexual assault wrapped up in an earwormy, happy-go-lucky melody. And in a twist of fate, that gut-wrenching personal tale rocketed her into worldwide fame.
The Canadian artist spent the next few years coming to terms with it all. She suffered at the hands of a music press that hungrily reported her every move and social media post, and she struggled to follow her best known songs. It was all excruciatingly public, from the since-disowned banger "Go" to the finished album that she completely scrapped at one point. It left fans wondering if she would ever be able to live up to the promise plainly exhibited on Visions. Now with Art Angels, Boucher has done just that. Recorded after several relocations, Art Angels wipes the fog from her lens and lays out her vision, clear and uncompromising.
Though it has a bigger, glossier sound, Art Angels is still very much a solo record. Aside from a few choice collaborators, Boucher produced and played everything herself, growing her laptop setup into a one-woman-studio-band while keeping the original ethos intact. On Art Angels, the melodies are sharper and the vocals are clearer, but it's still Boucher at the helm. So we get brusque Taiwanese rap verses layered over guttural screams ("SCREAM" with Aristophanes), helium vocals next to gruff growls ("Kill V. Maim"), turn-of-the-millennium pop rap ("Venus Fly" with Janelle Monáe) and sinuous ballads that hearken back to late-'90s Eurodance ("REALiTi"). If this is Boucher's attempt at jumping into the big leagues (as some predicted with the excellent first single, "Flesh Without Blood"), then it's a crossover that comes completely on her own terms.
One thing her new-and-improved sound highlights is lyrics, which wrestle with self-doubt and expectation and usually come up on the other side. She sings a gorgeous paean to Montreal on the title track, touts self-worth on "Easily," speaks to the redemptive power of music on "Belly Of The Beat" and sings from the perspective of a non-binary vampire Al Pacino on "Kill V. Maim," a rare male presence on an album about the power one woman can wield by herself.
On "California," Boucher pushes back against the music industry and the way it makes her feel about herself. "I get carried away / Commodifying all the pain," she says before adding, "You only like me when you think I'm looking sad." The song most reflects Boucher's complicated relationship with her own success, and as with the rest of Art Angels, its defiance feels triumphant.
"California" is one of the most approachable songs on Art Angels, though its vaguely country twang is one of the odd touches that might scare away non-fans. She routinely riffs on uncool or dated sounds, from pop-punk guitars to swirling late-'90s electronica, and sends it all through the lens of her kaleidoscope. Art Angels isn't any weirder than past records—Boucher is just more sharply in focus. And here, she casts off everything that's been expected of her, offering herself instead. The idea comes to a head on the closing track, "Butterfly," when Boucher sings, "I'll never be your dream girl." Over a rushing instrumental, she also intones, "If you're looking for a harmony / There is harmony in everything." The harmony on Art Angels is the one Boucher found within herself.
01. laughing and not being normal
03. SCREAM feat. Aristophanes
04. Flesh Without Blood
05. Belly Of The Beat
06. Kill V. Maim
11. World Princess, Pt. II
12. Venus Fly feat. Janelle Monáe
13. Life In The Vivid Dream