As the year draws to a close and we reflect on our favorite albums of the year, take a look back at one of our surefire locks for 2012’s best-of.
The dissolving line between underground strangeness and pop music becomes blurrier every day. It’s a shift that was one of the driving forces behind my own culture/subculture reconceptualization projects, and one which Claire Boucher seems to know in her soul. Visions is her third release in as many years, but it shows a remarkable growth in one aspect: it’s perfectly pop in a way that would be bizarre even ten years ago. A cursory listen would suggest that much of the gloominess permeating her earlier work is gone, but in fact it’s simply gone undercover. In my interview with Boucher, we spoke on the lurking bleakness behind the sweetness, and that’s really what this album is about: sleepless nights, disconnection from reality and lost opportunities.
The shimmying, minimal beats of opening track “Infinite love without fulfillment” clatter like the skeletons of hip hop circa ‘79, and lead single “Genesis” takes a simple piano melody for its backbone, sunny and light until you begin to decipher Boucher’s trademark coo: these songs are eulogies for the death of feeling. “Oblivion” plays it even straighter as she delicately murmurs that ‘someone could break your neck…and you’d never have a clue’. “Eight” treads a bit closer to her previous album Halfaxa, with a menacing mechanized vocal loop dominating the pitched vocal refrains. It’s the first track to really stray entirely from the sunny aesthetic Boucher has draped over her sorrows, and it feels like a touch of honesty, a peek behind the curtain. “Be A Body” is another highlight, almost sultry yet cold, distant in a way that seems to belie the song’s basis as a Thomas Aquinas quote about living happily in the physical world. And again: this is still a pop album.
The next three tracks struck me as almost being a stand-alone trilogy, a separate mini-album within the album itself. “Colour of Moonlight (Antiochus)” uses chugging industrialized throbs and refracted vocals to paint an aural portrait of night, equal parts embracing and eerie. “Symphonia IX (my wait is u)” relies on indecipherable and droning backing vocals to maximize the hauntology while the sparse drum machine rhythms beat on into the wail of “Nightmusic”, raw synths that seem to claw at the back of the mind before dissolving into frantic layers of plaintive, reversed vocals. “Skin”, then, is the release: never before has Boucher sounded so ethereally beautiful, a drowned R&B goddess lost in a clockwork fog. Imagine playing múm’s “The Ballad of the Broken Birdie Records” together with a Dead Can Dance B-side while underwater at midnight and you would have a pretty shitty allegory but also a fairly apt comparison, as well as a run-on sentence. Sorry about that.
Once again, this thing I’ve been talking about is a pop record. It is, perhaps, more honest than most, but it feels quite accessible on a surface level. It’s perfectly likely that these tracks will soon be heard playing in the mall, leaking from headphones on the subway, blasting tinnily in five-second ringtone snippets. Which is fascinating, because Boucher herself is anything but pop. She’s strange and awkward in the most charming way, and she maintains a strong underground DIY attitude in all of her work. She’s a real live human who creates her own aesthetic; exactly the kind of person who should be making pop albums, in fact.