Persevere and Halfaxa is quite the beguiling beauty.
Mike Diver 2011-03-01
On a cursory listen it seems Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, creates the kind of ethereal gloom-scapes that have served Zola Jesus well thus far. But closer inspection reveals the Montreal musician doesn’t seem concerned with typical forms, allowing her arrangements to dance dizzy in a manner quite removed from anything else bubbling forth from the blogosphere of late. So, Halfaxa – already the recipient of substantial online praise – makes things difficult for the critical ear, tracing over chillwave designs with a bold marker pen previously used for tagging her neighbourhood’s alleyways. It summons spirits of late hip-hoppers; it channels the churn of industrial music-makers past and present. At no point does this collection do anything that might be considered ordinary.
But it’s not a difficult set, really, not after revisiting its tracks a few times. Constituents might echo from distant homes, spread across the genre spectrum, but Boucher’s quite the craftsman when it comes to weaving a common thread between the elements. Ultimately, one arrives at a clutch of comparison-worthy acts – Gang Gang Dance being the most obvious, though only when the New Yorkers have turns their beats down and their ambient weirdness up. Also crawling, rather than springing, to mind are Salem, whose robust production is summoned on occasion; and Toro Y Moi, in the occasional shaft of sunlight that breaches the otherwise all-consuming darkness. There’s also a retro feel to some of the more upbeat moments – not exactly Studio 54, but certainly brighter than some other ‘net-charming solo sorts recalling 70s and 80s dancefloors behind their digital haze.
Spend long enough in Boucher’s company and one could conclude that, actually, this isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. Not true, though: that she’s made such an initially impenetrable album come brilliantly to life after a second or third spin is a clear sign of (quite a singular) talent. Halfaxa is literally a grower: come back again, and again, and it spreads a second-skin over the listener, one that feels like it was always there. Highs are hard to isolate given the album’s well-designed overall arc, but nevertheless: Weregild breaks from 16-bit twitchiness to some arrestingly witchy vocals and surrounding atmospherics; Devon is a delightful drift that represents one of the record’s most accessible pieces – part Washed Out, part Enya, incredibly; and Hallways glitches and sloshes like Hudson Mohawke trapped in a haunted dungeon.
Persevere, then, and Halfaxa is quite the beguiling beauty – though it’ll likely have you waking in a cold sweat if enjoyed right before bedtime.