Grimes has just released the music video for “California,” the third track from Art Angels to be set to visuals after the dual video “Flesh Without Blood/Life in the Vivid Dream” and “Kill V. Maim.” Directed by Grimes and her brother Mac Boucher, the video draws on the same tensions as the song itself: whimsy and melancholy, dreamy solitude and alienation. It is fantastic.
Perhaps the best shots occur in a sculpture studio, where Grimes twirls amidst busts and work tables, sprinkling plaster like a patron sprite christening her surroundings.
These scenes also depict art as something easily reproduced and commodified, a practice she identifies as indigenous to the music industry — and a seductive one for a songwriter: “‘Cause I get carried away / Commodifying all the pain.” The shadowy assembly of sculptures, many indistinguishable from one another, hearken back to the weary accusation in Grimes’s lyrics: “When you get bored of me, I’ll be back on the shelf.” In fact, she renders this line literal by posing on a dusty work surface.
We also see Grimes dolled up for a campy stage performance, her hair in golden ringlets, wearing tasseled epaulettes that engulf her neck and shoulders. She appears uncomfortable in a number of these scenes, as if the routine is labor delivered to appease someone else’s vision.
But then Grimes cuts loose with a little ribbon dancing, inside a gym that looks like an extremely geometric hallucination. All fitness classes should involve silk robes and freeform frolicking, don’t you think?
And finally, she is every East Coaster these past two weeks, nursing an existential crisis begot by too much damn rain.
(In fact, these shots serve as a lovely and somber counterpoint to the video’s color and frenzy, articulating the loneliness that prevails despite the song’s buoyant tempo.)
If, upon listening, the song seems to differ slightly from its album version, that’s because it does. Grimes explains that “the footage...was dissonant [with] the original song” and so she produced an alternate. The beat’s pulse is stronger in the newer version, and Grimes’s voice swells like an echo. I might actually prefer it.
In their own write-up, Pitchfork notes that “California” hosts a number of cameos for you to spot: “Mac [Boucher], Purity Ring’s Megan James, HANA, Born Gold, and model Eric Cheng.” And yet, I always struggle to notice anyone but Grimes when I watch her videos. She creates atmospheres that embrace her; she moves through them as if her limbs were made of water.
A final thought: After watching the video, I have a peculiar urge to return to my plaid skirt days. Grimes wears hers so well that this single article of clothing seems the solution to the very deepest malaise.
Video via YouTube. Screengrabs via YouTube, Twitter.