Claire Boucher

ACL: day 2

The second day of ACL was crowded. The festival’s mobile app kept on sending out messages, trying to prepare everyone for a cold front in the late afternoon that didn’t actually occur until right around 8 p.m. The weather was nice when the day began, as I walked around, catching pieces of Dan Croll and Max Frost play good ol’ fashioned rock 'n' roll in the early afternoon. After a moment checking out the craft beer tent, a very nice addition to this year’s fest, I headed to the Honda stage for Autre Ne Veut.

Autre Ne Veut’s live performances are always notable for the intensity of singer Arthur Ashin. He skulked around the stage and writhed on the floor, belting out a string of highlights from his latest album, Anxiety. While his act is much more suited for a dark club at night than a mid-afternoon slot at a festival, Autre Ne Veut entertained the small yet enthusiastic crowd gathered to see him.

From there, I was able to catch about half of HAIM’s set. The much-hyped L.A. band gave an equally intense performance that also rocked out a bit more than I had expected, based off their debut album. One of the sisters jumped off the stage toward the end and ran through the median in the crowd with infectious joy and energy. Once she reunited with the band on stage, they all began pounding on drums for a frenzied take on “Let Me Go.”

I spent some time walking around and grabbing lunch afterward, but caught a little bit of Delta Rae and Lissie in the meantime. Delta Rae sounded good, playing the kind of indie-folk you’d expect to see at ACL. Their lead singer explained how they almost had to cancel because one of their singers blew out her tonsils earlier this week, which led me to admire their flexibility while also cringing at the thought of how painful that must be. Lissie played upbeat folk-rock, closing her set with her cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness.”

Next, I watched about half of Silversun Pickups' set. The band has grown with each album they’ve released, and while I haven’t been a fan of the last two, I was impressed by how tight and controlled they sounded live. They made a note of how they had played Austin a lot lately, and the large crowd didn’t seem to mind.

We then decided to try and grab a good spot for Grimes, which was packed 20 minutes before she took the stage. The crowd was exceptionally young and seemed to be enjoying various substances. When Claire Boucher took the stage, she explained how her keyboard wasn’t working but vowed to make adjustments and play on. A few songs in, her backup dancers came out and the keyboard situation was fixed, so the music began to settle into a nice groove. She played “Oblivion” halfway through and the entire crowd danced along. Apart from that, the set was less energetic than I was expecting, and I feel like Grimes may be an act much better suited for a club show.

A band perfectly equipped to play in a festival setting was Passion Pit, who came next, playing to a crowd at least the size of Vampire Weekend the day before. The lead singer opened by explaining that he was sick but starting to get better, and based off the articles that ran last year in Pitchfork detailing his severe depression, I was a little worried about him. The band delivered a hugely energetic set that reminded me of Cut Copy’s from two years back. Passion Pit ran through hits from both of their popular albums, finishing with “Sleepyhead.” They sounded amazing live and were easily one of the best shows of the day.

Another artist who knows how to work a crowd is Kendrick Lamar, who had pretty much everyone at the festival under the age of 30 gathered to see him. I’m not sure why ACL decided to schedule The Shouting Matches against him, or why they didn’t put him on the main stage, as trying to walk around areas like the bar or the restrooms was nearly impossible. ACL really underestimates the draw of rap, but hopefully the huge draw that Kendrick had will teach them a lesson. Anyway, the show itself was great, as he played all the popular tunes from his incredible debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city, as well as a few older singles like “The Recipe” and “A.D.H.D.” People farther back in the crowd were dancing and singing along the words to songs like “Swimming Pools” and “Backseat Freestyle.” Kendrick did his part to get the crowd hyped up with his great stage presence and many call-and-response moments. At one point, he said that rather than this being a show or a festival or a concert, it was an experience. As I looked out on the thousands of people gathering around, it felt like one.

Finally, my night ended with The Cure. Robert Smith came out in the same makeup he’s always worn, and sounded just as good as he ever has. While the band members and the majority of the crowd has gotten a lot older in the decades since The Cure’s greatest albums were released, it was still special to see one of the best bands of the '80s play to a crowd of tens of thousands of enraptured fans who were definitely reliving their youth. The audience was super into it, and at one point I was back in the crowd singing along to “Friday I’m In Love” with about five other people just happy to see one of their favorite bands. I left a little early to get a head start on the traffic, but I got to see “Love Song” and “Just Like Heaven” performed by the band who wrote those hits, so it really couldn’t have gotten any better. 

Austin City Limits Music Festival is a visual feast. College students walk around Zilker Park in cutoffs and bikini tops, the Austin skyline stands out against the violet sunset in the evenings and headlining artists sport some outrageous hair styles. The Daily Texan compiled a list of our favorite hair donned by singers and songwriters that you should be on the look out for this weekend.  

HAIM

The middle part is hard to pull off for anyone. For HAIM, it is even more impressive as all three sisters part their long locks right down the middle. The look fits the ‘90s rock-influenced sounds created by Alana, Este and Danielle Haim, plus their drummer Dash Hutton. Maybe the group will influence your own festival fashions. Just check with an honest friend before trying the middle part for yourself. 

The Cure 

The men of The Cure may have aged, but their hair is just as lively as ever. The Cure’s hairstyle of choice is not quite an afro and not quite a mohawk. It looks like something that is probably achieved by the band sticking their fingers in electric sockets and hair-spraying it into place right before they take the stage. Beauty is pain. But don’t worry about The Cure because according to them, boys don’t cry.

Grimes 

Grimes’ setlist is not the only unpredictable factor at the Canadian electronic artist’s live performances. There is no telling what color Claire Boucher’s hair will be when she performs at this year’s ACL festival. It’s possible it could even change between weekends. She is like the real-life version of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” character Clementine Kruczynski, whose trademark move is constantly dying her hair different vivid colors. Boucher’s hair has been orange, green, blue, pink, dark brown, platinum blonde and rainbow streaked. 

fun. 

It would be unfair to say the members of fun. are entirely to blame for the awful hipster haircut trend of shaven sides with a tall, fluffy top. But they definitely are not helping. This hairstyle looks like the army regulation cut they probably gave soliders during World War II. Paired with suspenders or skinny pants, it is an obvious hipster alert. 

Dawes 

Most members of Dawes look like any other folk rock band, with bedhead and a little scruff, maybe a plaid flannel shirt. But drummer Griffin Goldsmith has something special resembling a cloud resting on top of his head. Griffin’s dirty blonde almost-afro looks so soft you could take a nap in it. Even though he’ll be at the back of the stage, audience members from all distances will likely see his curly locks bouncing to the beat. 

(Photo courtesy of Arbutus Records).

To some, experimentation can be a tedious process. To Claire Boucher, it is an intrinsic approach to music which has yielded impressive results. Boucher, who records under the name Grimes, has an anxious thirst to create art. And this time around, she’s brought her most captivating compilation to fruition through her latest album, Visions.

For the past two years, the 23 year-old songstress has spewed out music as if it were a necessity. In 2010, she debuted with Geidi Primes, followed by Halfaxa later on that same year. In 2011, the artist released Darkbloom, a split 12” with D’eon, a fellow producer and friend. Boucher has made musical strides in the industry of female production, blending different music genres including traces of glitch, streams of witch-house, touches of psych-pop and dashes of R&B. The result: an original culmination of sound which tantalizes listeners through its odd, ethereal nature.

In Visions, the Canadian musician makes way to include more enunciated lyrics, sculpting the album into a stream of consciousness. It’s as if Grimes was reciting her interior monologue clearer than ever, instead of scattering a few words throughout her songs with the usual prolonged “oohs” and “ahhs,” something she’s heavily relied on in the past. Her phenomenally unique voice sweetens the sometimes creepily mechanic aesthetic she employs. And though she sings more pronounced lyrics, drawing her listeners closer, she keeps the indecipherable vocals throughout the album, which can be frustrating.

The song “Vowels = space and time,” for example, is about Grimes’ anxiety with people getting on her case about her songs not “being about things,” as she said in an interview with Pitchfork. The artist doesn’t mean to attract attention to her lyrics’ significance, as counter-intuitive as it may seem. She’s posted on her Tumblr that the value of her vocals is their syllabic, sonic qualities, not their meaning.

Grimes manipulates her singing through vocal pedals and filters her music through a Juno-G keyboard, a sampling unit and GarageBand. With that said, rejecting Boucher’s craft as an art form would be deception. Her ability to maneuver these music-making machines is stunning.

Boucher also produces a danceability hard to ignore. “Circumambient” starts with a mysterious static and tribal bass drum, spooking listeners at first, then quickly drawing them back in with a catchy dance beat followed by her R&B layered vocals. Her high-pitched and girly falsetto draws influences from artists like Mariah Carey, someone Boucher acknowledges as an inspiration. “Nightmusic,” featuring Majical Cloudz, is among the dance-worthy songs on Visions.

The lofty synthesizer is set at an uptempo that is difficult to listen to and remain still.

Both tracks pave the way for what seems to be an emergence of K-pop, or Korean popular music, in North America. It would not be surprising if upcoming artists attempt to mimic the genre-blended aesthetic that Boucher has created in Visions.

This is Grimes’ most accessible album thus far — and her clearest ­— with its cathartic intent, in contrast with her past three experimental compilations. Boucher embraces her vocal talent more than ever, and her musicality allows for a path to indie-label stardom; but maybe that’s an understatement, considering her fearless creativity.

Printed on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 as: Indie pop artist reaches lyrical zenith