[xrr rating=4.5/5]Though there are plenty of female musicians making waves in many different genres of music, historically they are pigeonholed as sex-selling pop stars or cutesy indie girls – a simplification, but not entirely untrue. With that genealogy in mind, Montreal ethereal-pop songstress Claire Boucher (a.k.a. Grimes) delivers one of the most refreshing and challenging releases of the year. Though attaching feminist intentions to a record can be problematic, there’s something about Visions that feels like the first rumblings of a seismic shift in the labeling of sounds that are “feminine.”

Despite all its processed instruments, Visions pulses like a living and breathing entity. It opens with the breakbeat drums and high-pitched vocals of “Infinite Love Without Fulfillment,” a brief introduction to the hazy world that Boucher is about to forge. Her endlessly layered vocals dip and dive around indiscernible lyrics, akin to an extra set of synth pads rather than a clear conveyor of poetic intention. Between the vocals and pads, there are so many lead lines, hooks and melodies to keep up with that that effect is dizzying in its sheer scope. “Genesis” starts out with a soft pillow of pulsing synths while the vocal tracks, drenched in reverb and echo, bounce around as if in an empty room, before making way for a processed harp, piano and staccato, pitchy Casio blips. “Oblivion” has a more sinister beat at its core, Boucher’s breathy backing vocals and jam-packed melody creating a sense of unease despite the meshing of each added instrument.

It’s Boucher’s unique ear for creating synthesis out of displacement that elevates Visions above the trappings of the commonly applied labels of “witch house” and “freak-pop.” Much of the dissonant feeling of the album can be chalked up to the album’s deft sidestepping of any genre trappings, its ability to shape-shift just as we think we’ve got it pinned down. Even though this record achieves a certain amount of audience disillusion through lyrical ambiguity, there’s hardly a moment here that doesn’t feel highly personal. “Circumambient” pumps with the purpose of a house track but is lyrically filled with loneliness and helplessness. “Skin,” the sparse and gorgeous penultimate track, is the most intimate cut here and best displays Boucher’s strength as a lyricist, something that is often overshadowed by her complex yet intricately composed arrangements. Over a slight synth lead and some heady atmospherics, with a smooth falsetto, she laments the futility of love and the inconsistency and responsibility that comes with mutual trust: “Soft skin/ You touch me once again/ And somehow it stings/ ‘Cause I know it’s the end.” It’s one of the most piercing moments on the record, the bare arrangement signifying the intimacy and nakedness of the spiritual purging. It’s in this moment that the confidence of Boucher is revealed, as she wraps up her pop sensibilities and emotional honesty in an avant-garde blanket. This record hides its touches of angst behind walls of pop, funk and house flourishes, which, by album’s end, make “Skin” all the more striking.

Visions is a remarkable album that’s more of an evolving organism than it is a fixed physical product. The synths creep, crawl, ebb and flow with a delicate intricacy, fluctuating between club-leaning bangers and gentle, warm lead lines. Boucher’s vocals shift along with the sonic landscape, creating a unique listening experience that unearths something new with every spin. Predicting any sort of trends in a postmodern, image-focused world is a futile effort, but there’s certainly something game changing about Visions. Grimes has crafted a confident, moving and immersive work that not only seeks to break down the schism between Pop and Rock, but also makes a bold statement for female musicians who have their own unique visions and struggle to see them realized in an industry and genre continually dominated by men.

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