TRACK REVIEW: Grimes & i_o - Violence



Grimes & i_o





The track, Violence, is available via:




Vancouver, Canada


5th September, 2019


4AD Ltd.


I want to cover quite a bit in this review…


 PHOTO CREDIT: Nicholas Maggio

and talk about an artist who is a megastar. In fact, there are similarities between yesterday’s subject, Iggy Pop, and today’s inclusion, Grimes. Grimes worked on her new track, Violence, with i_o and, forgive me, but my attention is going to be on Grimes herself. When talking about her, I want to cover those who mature and find their voice after a while; artists who keep growing and get more spectacular as times goes along. I also want to discuss sounds that vary from the mainstream Pop elite and providing something genuinely startling and interesting. I will move on to young female artists like Grimes and how empowering she is to girls/women around the world. I want to discuss anticipated albums and how music can provide a release and sense of comfort in these tough times. One can forgive some subject repetition because, inevitably, one does cover the same ground when it comes to themes – what with the fact there is finite space and options having addressed so many artists through the year. Every artists takes a little while to get going and discover their direction: few are fully-formed and fly straight out of the traps. Grimes’ 2010 debut, Geidi Primes, is assured and impressive but one feels that the Vancouver-born artists really started to come into her own by 2012’s Visions. The words that come up with every Grimes album (from reviewers) are ‘cohesive’ and ‘impressive’. The pioneering young artist is always pushing herself and taking her music in fresh directions. What amazes me is how Grimes keep building from album to album. Art Angels – released in 2015 – is her most daring album yet and did not suffer from lots of collaborators and bodies – so many modern artists cram their albums with too many bodies. There are a couple of collaborators on the album but, largely, this is Grimes recording these sparse-yet-fulsome songs that get under the skin and infuse the senses.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Rutherford

I will talk more about her upcoming album, Miss_Anthropocene, but I have been following Grimes’ work since the beginning and have seen this artist blossom and discover herself. She was fantastic from the start but, now, it seems like she has hit her beat. Her latest track is one of her most arresting but it has a simplicity and naturalness that is hard to ignore. Here, in this NME feature, we learn about Grimes position now and what it was like putting Violence together:  

I feel like for the first time, I’m really seeing myself as a singer, which is something I’ve never really done before, and it actually feels really good to just sing,” Grimes told Zane Lowe on Beats 1. You can listen to the interview below.

She continued: “Because I’ve always just been so pushing that part of myself away because I’ve been like, ‘I’m a producer first.’ I think as a female, it’s important to foreground the producer stuff. But I feel like I’ve just done that. And also, besides, i_o produced the rest of this album so it’s like…I feel like I’ve just earned my 10 minutes to just sit around and sing.”

Opening up about new track, ‘Violence’, Grimes said: “I hit i_o up and we made this song up in an hour. And then I was just like, ‘This must go on the album because it just feels good.’ And, you know what, you know what? It’s just fresh.”

Grimes also revealed that she’s working on two songs with Charli XCX, one of which she described as “psychotic techno.”

The Canadian musician previously explained that her new project will be a “concept album”. “[It is] about the anthropomorphic Goddess of climate change: A psychedelic, space-dwelling demon/ beauty-Queen who relishes the end of the world. She’s composed of Ivory and Oil,” she wrote in a now-deleted post on Instagram. She also added that her upcoming album, ‘Miss_Anthropocene’, will be “highly collaborative”.



I have discussed Grimes getting more confident with each album, but it seems like the quality is also increasing. I have mentioned a few albums but, if you compared where she was on her debut with what was produced on Art Angels, there is a leap. I will talk about contradictions at work in her music but one of the things that amazes me about Grimes is how she can be accessible and personal; this striking artist with her own sound who can resonate and connect with the masses. She reminds me of someone like FKA twigs who can concoct her own world but you also identify. I am not sure what drives Grimes and what can explain the growth between albums – maybe it is just natural confidence and evolution. A lot of modern Pop artists get acclaim fairly early and they can sort of lose their way soon enough. Perhaps it is the pressure and expectation but, with Grimes, she seems unconcerned with reviews and what people expect from her. Instead, she inhabits her own world and ensures every album is fresh and striking. The originality of her albums is another startling facet. Again, a lot of artists repeat themselves and can sound a little stilted. Grimes could easily fall prey to that but she hasn’t. I feel there is this artist who wants to bond with fans and make something meaningful but she does not chase dollars and streaming figures. Her mind is not attuned to formulas and algorithms: instead, she follows her instincts and makes music that is meaningful and true to her. You do see artists who wane and fade a bit and can struggle to keep up the high standard they set early. Grimes seems to keep improving and finding new ground to explore with every album she puts out. I shall move onto another theme because I actually want to skip ahead a bit and highlight Grimes as someone who is an inspiration to many.

We all know that a lot of Pop artists are fabricated and seem to be the product of labels. They are allowed some input in their own material but one senses that there are so many bodies and voices dictating the course of events. I feel that with every artist in the mainstream and wonder whether big acts actually get any freedom. Maybe artists such as Taylor Swift are given the benefit of the doubt and are not guided too much but I feel, even in her case, you have someone who is being led to an extent. It is the way things are done but strong artists can balance the demands of labels and the machine and actually create material that is meaningful to them. I am not sure what professional life is like for Taylor Swift – I assume there is some struggle with the label now and then – but Grimes seems completely separate from all of that. I know that she is not independent and is free to pop out albums when and how she likes (few get that chance!) but she is not someone who follows the crowd and wants to be overly-commercial. As I say, there is a contrast in her work that means the songs are exceptional and accomplished but she makes them sound free and easy; accessible enough so we do not have to listen over and over again to understand them. Grimes is a strong voice and has actively spoken out against hard drugs in the past. Whilst her ethics and stance regarding drugs is impressive, it is her sensational music and incredible talent that will inspire many. She is not only inspiring to women: there are artists coming through who will see what she is doing and be moved to follow suit. Grimes does work with mixers and other bodies but, largely, she is calling the shots and not an artist who needs a team of writers and producers – again, an ill that has always been in the industry. I am not judging artists who have teams behind them but I am always more drawn to artists who want to keep their music personal and do not need to be steered.

 PHOTO CREDIT: Charlotte Rutherford

Grimes’ music has edges and hard angles but there is a lot of warmth and catchy moments. I have seen feature pieces where she has been described as weird and cold. That is not true at all, but it is fair to say there is a difference between Grimes the musician and Grimes the woman. In this interview from 2015, Grimes spoke with The Guardian about that contrast:

 “There are things I would never say in interviews that are my opinions. I’m way more political than I am publicly – significantly more extreme,” Boucher tells me when I ask how the Grimes persona manifests itself on occasions such as this (that is, being asked questions by a stranger while perched on the bed of a London hotel room). “There’s lots of people I hate,” she says. But Boucher is struggling to keep up anodyne appearances.

“In my life, I’m a lot more weird than this,” she explains. “Grimes is more palatable for humans. If it was up to me maybe I’d wear a moustache or something,” she continues, as I start seeing her less as a hipster making bleeding-edge pop, more a kindred spirit of Vic Reeves.

“I try to make it digestible to a degree.” Why? “That’s what I’m interested in seeing. I create a thing that I wish existed in the world, versus my own full unabashed creative expression”.

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to Grimes but it is clear we have an artist who creates a bit of distance between her true self and what we see in her music. I think Grimes overstates her own weirdness. Maybe things are different in 2019 but she is someone you are drawn to. Perhaps her domestic life is difference but I have always seen Grimes as someone who is a modern-day idol and will inspire a legion of young musicians. She does seem very personable and honest; there is warmth to her and, as a composer and singer, she is in a league of her own.

I will move to her latest track in a minute but I wanted to compare the sound of Grimes to what is happening in the mainstream right now. There seems to be this split between the more conventional mainstream artist and those who sit outside of that circle. I have mentioned Taylor Swift and, whilst she has her fanbase and is gathering a lot of great reviews for her latest album (Lover), her music is not as vivid, colourful and interesting as someone like Grimes. Maybe Billie Eilish is the nearest comparison to Grimes but, even then, there are differences. I am not against modern Pop but I do feel there is something lacking and empty regarding the traditional format. Artists are free to discuss their love life and experiences but I think few manage to do so and unite the people. So many of today’s big Pop artists have their own demographic and I find it hard to get behind them. The music lacks genuine fun and memorability and the lyrics seem to be primed to a narrow audience. Artists like Grimes are much wider in their reach because they can write about love and personal matters but are casting their net wider – there is something that resonates and speaks to you. Grimes’ sound is addictive and unusual at times and she does not limit herself. Rather than aim her music at teenage girls or a younger audience, anyone can connect with her music and find something to enjoy. I think that ability to speak to a large audience is something the biggest Pop artists fail to do. I am not sure why this is the case but it is clear there is a definite divide between these more daring artists like Grimes and Billie Eilish and the more straightforward and commercial artists.

This year has been great in terms of music but there are so many albums and artists out there that sort of pass you by after a couple of listens. The very best musicians can create depth and keep you coming back time and time again. I am not just signalling Pop out because there are multiple genres and, in each, there are going to be artists who fail to create something deep and memorable. I listen to so much music today and there is nothing really to recommend. You listen to it – whether it is a song and album – and one wonders what the objective of the artist is. Do they just want chart success and are not too bothered about repeated plays? Do they lack the vision to go beyond the ordinary? Are they trying to make something quite simple that does not require that much thought? Whatever the reasoning, far too many artists are using their platform in the wrong way. This might be a subjective thing but I always get annoyed listening to songs that sound the same as everything else or has little underneath the surface. Today’s industry is tough and competitive and it seems foolhardy to release music that is pretty basic or has very little about it. It is wonderful we have someone like Grimes in our midst. She can never be accused of being boring but, unlike some artists, she does not push anyone away. Some artists who make this very bold and original music can put too much into the blend or there is something that only speaks to certain people. Grimes never does this and, instead, she wants to embrace everyone. It is startling Grimes’ music sounds so fresh, cohesive and accomplished because, more often than not, she has to face misrepresentation in the press.

I did not cover this when I was discussing the contrast between who she is as an artist and as a musician. Is it ever possible for an artist to be represented fairly? Looking back at interviews Grimes has given…are we hearing the truth and how much of what we read is designed to grab headlines and distort? Earlier this year, Grimes spoke with CRACK and had her say. The article also mentions her political stance and, again, she is someone who will empower a lot of people and give them strength.

Alongside her artistic output, Boucher has consistently proved herself unafraid to speak out on the political issues that are important to her. In 2016, in the face of a Trump presidency, she recreated a 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson advert in support of Hillary Clinton, stating that in the coming election: “The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” The following year, after President Trump announced a travel ban on seven predominantly Muslim countries, she tweeted that she would match donations up to $10,000 for the Council on American-Islam Relations. Last year she joined protesters in British Columbia against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

It’s a difficult realisation for anyone who finds themselves in the public eye that they’re no longer in control of their own narrative. But it seems like a particularly cruel irony for Boucher after she worked so hard for so long to make sure she had complete artistic control over every aspect of Grimes. She self-produced every song on every Grimes album, drew her own artwork and directed her own videos, creating a distinct aesthetic universe influenced by Japanese manga and gothic dystopias but became something all of her own. She has never relied on anybody else. “For most artists if you’re not cool for 20 minutes then you can’t get in a room with a good producer and your career is fucking over,” she says. “I never want to be in that situation. I want to be in a situation like I am now where my reputation is at an all-time low and I can still make sick-ass fucking music because I don’t rely on anybody”.

Grimes is an artist who can switch between the more breezy and fresh and the more evocative and startling. It is a great contrast but, on Violence, there is a bit of both. Grimes’ voice is processed and there is a lot of energy from the off. Grimes’ voice echoes and seems to vibrate. The beats throb and one is brought into this very special and eye-opening world. Instantly, I was stunned by the sounds coming from Violence and the effect that creates. The lyrics really interest me. “I am, like, begging for you baby/Makes you wanna party/Wanna break up/Baby it’s violence, violence/Baby, it’s violence”. In the video, Grimes is reading from The Art of War by Sun Tzu and looking quite engrossed. If the music and vocals have a lightness and sense of uplift to them, the lyrics suggest someone who has been messed around and hurt quite bad. It is said that the sweetheart cannot see what Grimes has seen; they cannot see how much they have hurt her and what they are doing. I was wondering whether this was the end stage of a relationship where the heroine wants to get away from quite a toxic love or whether this is a friend who is hurting her. It is not clear to start with: one can interpret as they see fit and come to their own conclusion. If the introduction and early stages are a little claustrophobic and strained, the chorus definitely bursts into life. The electronic beat remains central and prominent but the song switches from a breathy and calmer affair to this vivacious and bright thing. Whilst there is a lot of energy and spirit from Grimes, the words still suggest someone who is being lied to and cast aside. It seems this unnamed person is trying to pay her back and make her bad. It seems he likes it like that and, whereas there is a bad side to Grimes, one feels like she is trying to break free.

That is open for interpretation but, on the one hand, there is a part of Grimes drawn to the chaos and there is another argument that suggests she is in a bad situation. Also, it is not evident that Grimes is referring to a man or woman here. The lyrics are loose enough so you can take the story in various directions. Maybe this is a commentary on American politics or something happening in the wider world. Rather than pack the song with too many different lines and threads, Grimes repeats lines and phrases to create maximum emotional effect. One gets sucked into a song that is hypnotic and powerful. There is a school of thought that suggests modern Pop is too repetitive and lacks any real depth. I agree that is the case with many artists but, in those cases, the repetitiveness stems from processed beats, generic templates and uninspired lyrics. On Violence, Grimes uses these potent phrases to create a mood and to get inside the listener’s head. This notion of being turned bad and whether it is something she welcomes; being misunderstood and whether we are talking about a relationship or a wider observation of the world around us. There is so much to unpick and unpack and one needs to listen to the song a few times few before everything absorbs. I have heard the song a few times around and I am still considering different angles. The song changes course and we get these different movements and phases. I like the fact that there is so much happening with the composition and all the beats and electronics add to this sense of emotion and wondering. Each listener will take something different away from the song but to me, here is a woman who is facing battles and confliction – but she seem to draw some strength from it. It is a wonderful song to dissect and, the more I hear Violence, the more certain visions and possibilities come to mind. I wonder what we will get from Miss_Anthropocene and, in terms of sound, it will have a lot of songs like Violence on it. We shall see, but one thing is clear: Grimes is among the most original and gripping artists around.


I have covered a lot of ground and I hope i_o will forgive me because I was keen to talk about Grimes and her world. I shall end things here but there is going to be a lot of eyes her way. Miss_Anthropocene is coming soon but there is no set release date yet. Her fifth album is among the most anticipated of the moment and I cannot wait to see what she brings out. Before I end things, it is worth looking ahead and seeing where Grimes can go from here. I know there are many in the U.K. who will want to see her perform live so make sure you keep abreast of everything happening. Connect with her on social media and you can see where she is headed. Right now, Grimes is busy promoting Violence and I am sure we will see another single or two before the album arrives. I have not even talked about Grimes as a fashion and visual icon. Just look at her photoshoots and how she seems to project new personas all of the time. Maybe this comes back to the way she is perceived in the press and the fact we are in a post-truth world. Great artists are always changing and surprising people. Again, I think a lot of mainstream artists are quite dull when it comes to their image and their music reflects a real lack of effort.

PHOTO CREDIT: Eli Russell Linetz

Grimes’ albums covers are always striking and she captures the eye readily. I do think Grimes is a modern icon and puts out music that can make you dance but also has real depth – not quite as dark as Billie Eilish’s work but as deep, captivating and original. I shall wrap it up soon but I am really pumped to see what comes next. I will snap up Miss_Anthropocene when it arrives – let’s hope it comes out before the end of this year! This year has been crammed with incredible music. I think 2019 has been the strongest year of the decade in terms of variety and Grimes is definitely part of the conversation. She is one of the most inspiring and interesting artists in the world at the moment and I think she will only grow bigger. As I stated, she does get better with each album and who knows where she will be in a few years. The music scene definitely needs artists like Grime. Against the conventional and restrained, she is someone who pushes boundaries and appeals to a much wider demographic (than a lot of mainstream acts). Violence is proof that she cannot be predicted or limited. It is a fantastic song and it is one of the best cuts from 2019 so far. If you are new to Grimes then do go back and check out her work as it is incredible and really interesting. Grimes is preparing her fifth album right now and we cannot wait to hear that! She is this treasure and superstar who will keep on making terrific music…

FOR a long time to come.


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