Having never been able to fully wrap my head around Visions, the much-discussed breakthrough album from Claire Boucher’s alias Grimes, I took to last night’s free show at Hudson River Park for another stab at figuring out what the fuss is all about. I walked away having learned two lessons:
1. There are songs and then there are non-songs.
Even among Boucher’s detractors, “Oblivion” is untouchable. Its electro gurgles and chipmunk ghost vocals are so tightly wrapped around a simple, infectious melody, they can’t shake loose in your brain. Visions is peppered with other potential standout tracks (“Genesis,” “Visiting Statue”), but they’re swimming in such an overly populated sea of sound, it’s difficult to pick them out from the bustle, much less decipher whether there really is a melody living somewhere within them. And so you hear a song, maybe even momentarily enjoy it, then forget it, as the album moves onto the next sensory overload.
Now faced with the restrictions of recreating them live as a one-woman show, there’s finally an opportunity for some breathing room. Working with a picnic-table spread of machinery (from my vantage point, it was difficult to make out what exactly, but there was definitely a keyboard or two, some pedals, and lots of knobs to be turned), some of the elements were drawn out, others were left completely behind. But instead of the sky parting and “Oblivion”-strength melodies jumping to the forefront, the luster was dulled down a notch, revealing a handful of seemingly half-formed songs—the sketches of a hyperactive artist who clearly has no shortage of ideas but hasn’t yet developed the patience to polish them into their full potential.
2. Grimes does an awfully good job at selling these songs and non-songs.
The two dancers at either side of the table didn’t hurt, and no one is going to argue with a bubble machine, but even with spectacles aside and not entirely aurally enthralled, Grimes is magnetic in a live setting. You root for her. So many of our female pop stars that we coin “interesting” are interesting in tangible, concrete ways: Fiona Apple is emotionally purging, Lady Gaga is a self-defined weirdo, Lana Del Rey is maybe made from wax, but Grimes is such a happy jumble of things. I’ve always thought of her as an updated version of Prodigy, producing music so proudly futuristic with a “one day you’ll get it” mentality, but seeing her here, that’s not the case at all. With endless influences at the tip of her laptop button, she’s a Eurotrash Tinker Bell, a Debbie Gibson raver, rough and inoffensive, tense and lighthearted, goth and teddy bear cute. If in a post-Internet world all that we demand from our pop stars is that they be genuinely intriguing, she’s our “It” girl.
Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.