The Albums of 2012 (#3): Grimes – Visions (4AD)

The Skinny catches up with our favourite sibylline songstress to hear about her year and get the inside track on the future of music

Feature by Mark Shukla | 06 Dec 2012

If suffering is indeed that which distinguishes the artist from the dilettante, then Claire Boucher is well on her way to greatness. Having subjected herself to a severe regimen of fasting and sleep deprivation in order to complete her Visions LP, Boucher decided to move from Montreal to LA in the first half of 2012 as part of an effort to alleviate long-standing health problems. Her relentless gigging schedule, however, led to her developing tinnitus, along with "pain and noticeable hearing loss in (her) left ear," resulting in the cancellation of recent Canadian and European dates:

"I haven't been holding up super-well," she admits. "I mean, I'm not 'out of action', it's just very unhealthy to be constantly exposed to concert-level noise. I also have really intense food allergies so I tend to be sick on tour, as I'm often eating something that I shouldn't. I've been back home a week and already I have so much more energy. I haven't puked once and I don't even feel nauseated – which is strange because I'm so used to feeling like I'm going to throw up all the time on tour."

Boucher's stoicism may seem somewhat at odds with her fey, hyper-stylised image, but it betrays the kind of determination that has seen her transition from synth-pop novitiate to couture-draped, Polaris Prize-nominated media darling in the space of a few short years. It's been a dizzying ascent that Boucher feels has changed her in fundamental ways: "I used to be a very shy, withheld person, and I have had to learn to be more aggressive and forward. I think it's translating a lot into my music also; the live shows have been getting very screamo."

Of course, getting hand-picked for a support slot on Skrillex's Full Flex Express tour will tend to put hairs on your chest, and whilst Boucher describes the experience as one of the highlights of her year ('I was pretty stoked for most of that...') she's equally thankful for the close relationships she's been able to develop with her peers: "I love Elite Gymnastics and Doldrums because they are both really smart, but are ultimately dedicated to working on music that is very satisfying/gratifying on a gut level, and I think when you get experimental musicians with pop sensibilities that's what moves music forward."

This marriage of experimental impulses and spellbinding hooks lies at the heart of Boucher's own music, and some eight months after its release, Visions has lost none of its ability to hypnotise. If anything, The Skinny has only grown more enamoured of its numinous grace; each successive spin of tracks like Colour of Moonlight or Symphonia IX (which on first listen felt like weak points) unspooling a fractal filigree of ever more luxurious detail. Like her 4AD forerunner Liz Fraser, Boucher is capable of wielding her voice as both an instrument of immediate pleasure and as a channel for occult fascination; her effortless movement between these poles creating a singular magnetism that is as seductive as it is exhilarating.

Never one to rest on her laurels, Boucher is using her tinnitus-related downtime to (quietly) record vocal parts for her next release which she anticipates will see the light of day "probably next summer, or if not then September."

Although Boucher's achievement on Visions is all the more impressive in light of her limited means at the time ("a lot of the best art comes out of not having all the options in the world - using Garageband provided me with that because I was forced to be really inventive to make shit happen," she told us in February), having since upgraded to Logic, Boucher seems to hold no qualms about rethinking her sound:

"[My next LP] will be more 'songwriting oriented' in that there's more cohesive structure and I'm working on lyrics. The production is way better and the beats are more intense and more industrial. The vocals are more up-front and clearer. So it's simultaneously more experimental and aggressive than Visions, but also more pop. It's just better all around, really."

Given Boucher's abiding fascination with medieval mystic Hildegard of Bingen, we asked her to break out her own crystal ball and give us some predictions for music in 2013: 

"Country music is going to become critically viable, and by critically I mean in a traditionally non-country, 'Pitchfork' type of sphere. You already see it with Lana Del Rey totally ripping Wicked Game-era Chris Isaak. Artists like Taylor Swift are getting way more mainstream and moving out of being just 'country mainstream.' Other things should be popular like Russian avant-garde and French avant-garde references both visually and intellectually. I think Stravinksy is cool and ballet should be adopted more into experimental music. I think reading will be cool again; things that require skill-honing, that can't just be Tumblr memes - because you actually need to develop a skill set to execute them. Like, subtle literary references to things you can't find on Wikipedia. I also think the next Yamantaka // Sonic Titan record is going to be massive. "

And what does she envision her own future might hold?

"I want to fly a plane; direct videos; read everything Nabokov has ever written; collaborate with people I admire; and make art that is the best work I have ever done."

Eyes to the skies, motherfuckers.