Music Reviews
Miss Anthropocene

Grimes Miss Anthropocene

(4AD) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

The trouble with concept albums is that they walk a fine line between show and tell. A clever artist with a clear message can wave it seamlessly from one track to the next without needing to spell out every word in neon lettering. Nor should she need to obfuscate so much that the concept emerges only vaguely after it’s revealed in interviews, the artist triumphantly announcing, the critics slathering their post facto analysis in thick layers until it is absolutely cemented: yes, this is a concept album.

The living embodiment of a cyperpunk anime character, Grimes arguably falls into the latter camp with her latest and perhaps most ambitious release, the mischievously titled Miss Anthropecene. Grimes, or Claire Boucher when she’s at home, has been teasing the record about an “anthropomorphic goddess of climate change” (ah, you thought it was only a double meaning!) since 2017. Each song, she insists, embodies human extinction in a different way. Better still, and in maybe my favorite declaration of 2020 thus far, she told Ryan Bradley of WSJ Magazine that with this album she “want[s] to make climate change fun.”

Because I am an irresponsible consumer of media (read: I live under a rock and loathe Twitter), I had the luxury of going into Miss Anthropocene completely blind and without the benefit of Boucher’s full annotations. That isn’t to say that I didn’t have plenty of preconceived notions of Grimes, her whackjob boyfriend, and her previous work—that’s plenty enough to go on. But when I emerged from the haunting spell of this release into the morass of its critical reception, I was stunned to see what it was actually about.

That is a lot of prelude to discuss what is ultimately an excellent record. Where the message is muddied, thankfully the music is often, simply put, beautiful. The opening track, So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth, nods to ‘90s trip hop with perfectly timed, emotionally resonant bass, and delicately echoing vocals. Violence is similar in macabre mood but far sultrier, more suited for the club. Baucher’s saccharine, thin voice—one I used to find grating but genuinely mesmerizes here—is sickeningly sexy: “I’m like, begging for it, baby/Makes you wanna party, wanna wake up/Baby, it’s violence, violence/Baby, it’s violence.” This is breathtakingly good pop music, but oh what a stretch to retrofit the idea of human extinction onto it. The former comparative literature major inside me could write an essay on it, but that only further proves the point.

Learning that Miss Anthropocene was a concept album immediately made the grading curve more difficult. Before it would have been simple to overlook a few inconsistent tracks in a sea of exceptional electropop; but with only a vague sense of unease to unify them, the incohesive numbers make less sense. On its own, Delete Forever is a solid pop ballad, a fairly standard lamentation of love and innocence lost. But how jarring to hear what could double as the opening chords to Wonderwall after the dark and anxious Taiwanese rapping on Darkseid? Whither the banjo on an album like this?

Miss Anthropecene took years to come together. Because Grimes is famous for her large internet presence and prolific (and controversial) partner, it dropped with a lot of fanfare. There’s something to be said for toning down the overt messaging of the album itself when she’s been so vocal about the underlying intention behind every lyric and edit. Still, without the context to carry it, how powerfully does it stand on its own? Here’s hoping that the strength of the artistic craftsmanship of the record will render that question moot.