Author’s Note: I wrote this review in January for an exercise in writing about something with a negative slant.
My first contact with Grimes was in stills from the 2013 MTV VMAs, wearing the same Versace pants as 2 Chainz. Here she was caught in the bane of a female star’s existence, wearing the same thing as someone else at an awards show. (A man at an awards show?!) And she rocked it with a great sense of humor and all the confidence of a killer outfit. In other words: this tiny blond girl is a boss. My second contact with Grimes was on Sirius radio, chatting with an all-girl band about the similarities of their music with a charming lisp. By then I was even more intrigued. Her song came on after the interview, and my excitement deflated. I had heard it before, I’d given it chances, and if I’d ever made it all the way through, I couldn’t remember it. By then I was accustomed to changing the channel once I heard the first chord.
“Flesh without Blood” is a four and a half minute synth pop trip that never manages to break the barrier between captivating and annoying. Every sound including the saturated vocals, the a cappella backup, the mechanical percussion, the synth fills, and the constant echoing of all these elements leans towards dream pop. However, this spacey ensemble is infiltrated by a relentless bass line with a quick, metronomic eighth-note attack and a similarly aggressive percussive rhythm (despite its pop space-junk timbre). The vocals are delicate, thin, and unnaturally high, delivering a bluntly ornamented sing-song melody. The floating and metronomic qualities of the song combine not only to make it feel endless, but to match the passing of that time with a relentless beat keeping track of exactly how long it’s taking. In effect, every time I hear this song, I’m waiting for it to be over.
Grimes is another (perhaps less extreme) embodiment of the aesthetic mastered by artists like Brooke Candy and Lady Gaga. I respect the aesthetic she’s going for. I would even go as far as to say that I love it. The idea of asserting oneself as feminine without submitting to traditional feminine values is beautiful. The demand to be heard despite a unconventional sound is admirable, and even timeless. But it needs to be phenomenal to really work. If her song is intolerable, it’s falling on deaf ears. The music video is similarly defiantly ornamented, if not more so, featuring Grimes and friends frolicking through a palace dressed in anachronistic costumes getting increasingly covered with blood. Even the outlandish music video feels unworthy of the time it takes to watch by completely desensitizing the viewer to its content. It doesn’t feel like Grimes has anything to deliver except to introduce herself as a non-conformist. The degree of sensationalism is unfortunately not bolstered with enough subtle artistry to push it over the edge from cult popularity to a universal hit.