GRIMES
London XOYO
Wednesday 9 May 2012

A quick visit to the merchandise stall tells you all that you need to know: without a promotional T-shirt in sight, a modest selection of free ”Ëœ(heart) Grimes’ badges are up for grabs along with some CDs and most prominently an assortment of ”Ëœpussy rings’ – created by Canadian jeweller Morgan Black – all of which suggests that commercial considerations are secondary to artistic matters for tonight’s main attraction.

With the release of her new collection, Visions, Montreal’s admirably prolific Grimes, aka Claire ”Ëœthree albums in two years’ Boucher, is currently enjoying a huge surge of media interest. But while the jaw-dropping disconnect between this remarkable musician’s radio-friendly moments and her bold forays into fractured, mutoid hip-hop could be an obstacle to wider success, the same oddness is clearly a big draw for tonight’s enthralled audience.

Despite her growing reputation and the weight of expectation prior to this sold-out gig, Boucher simply strolls onstage like a glammed-up technician, joking with the front rows while she prepares her equipment. As recognition spreads she asks for the lights to be lowered – and lowered some more. Then, as the first digital pulse throbs into life, she transforms before our eyes into an elfin sorceress capable of creating a shredded electro-pop sound that’s both minimalist and often truly magical.

A slight but magnetic presence, shrouded in smoke and shadows, she twitches and skips, only occasionally glancing up, her eyes flashing briefly as she tinkers with her controls DJ-style, painting a haunting soundscape with the rumbling bass notes, choirs, pianos, harps and beats that whirl in her sonic palette.

Songs like Wereglid and My Sister Says The Saddest Things reveal glimpses of Boucher’s pure pop heart, sublime tunes flickering in and out of focus only to be engulfed in the clunky Burial-ish reverb and Crystal Castles crunch that define her sound. At times you’re surprised to be put in mind of early Madonna as Grimes throws shapes and sings while a team of dancers gyrate next to her. And yet even Genesis and Oblivion (the latter a brilliantly wonky rewiring of Del Shannon’s 1961 hit Runaway) are delivered here with a spectral strangeness, their hooks chafing against layers of convulsive, scattergun beats that remind you at times of Idioteque-era Radiohead.

Looped and stretched, Boucher’s unnervingly sweet singing mutates into a disembodied, repeatedly replicated instrument to which she adds further live vocals, with spellbinding results; the artist mixing herself into the swirl as she grooves in the onstage darkness.

This might be her moment, the outer limits of her mainstream acceptance, but you get the feeling that for now she’s simply glad to be appreciated. And if a few people left tonight not just with fond memories but also Grimes-endorsed feminine fingerwear, she’ll be even happier.

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