We have second place.
Madeleine Lee: It’s structurally flawless, the backbeat is exciting, and Grimes’s alternately clear and distant voice is the best instrument in a mix of well-used instruments. But it seems cold to mention these as the only justifications for liking this song. Not that I can really articulate any of the other reasons, either; it’s like having a warm body when the air outside is increasingly cold, and sounds best when you’re alone.
Katherine St Asaph: At some point this year I went from not getting Grimes to completely getting Grimes, and it’s been confusing but exhilarating. Probably it’s because Art Angels is not a “post-Internet” album, whatever the fuck that means, but at least three albums in one, including one of the year’s strongest power-pop albums. My entire career, such as it was, was one long con designed to persuade everyone that teen-movie soundtracks are the greatest genre of music extant. At least Grimes seems like she might see where I’m coming from. Although she’d say “yeah, but the production needs about infinity more Easter eggs.”
Edward Okulicz: The sounds I loved of the mid-00’s that never quite blew up all point to this. Yes, you can hear the spirit of 2004-era Peak Xenomania in this, before they lost it. Grimes is as playful with buzzing sounds as she is smart, torpedoing through this song at a terrifying speed, but the chorus isn’t quite the knockout it needs to be.
Alfred Soto: She’s a sharp producer: the hook isn’t the clipped guitar, it’s the ah-ah-ah harmony peeking from behind the main vocal. Strong vocal though. “I don’t care!” rings as powerfully as “Just let me go.” Press material suggests she’s singing in character, but what I hear is a young woman (re)defining herself with her gizmos and guitars resisting New Yorker profile stereotypes.
Juana Giaimo: It’s true that Grimes’ voice has turned clearer in Art Angels, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a plurality of voices. However, while they used to be weaved, now each has its own space. I hear her usual high-pitched exclamations, a catchy and playful “uh-uh-uh” at the end of verses, a powerful and lonely “I don’t care anymore,” a thoughtful chorus and an echoed bridge. How is still cohesive? The speed, reflected in the aggressive beats and guitar. In this sense, this is a song about confusion. Because Grimes is standing exactly where pop and the internet intersect, she is aware that the ground beneath her feet is unstable and that all that she once admired may suddenly turn into a disappointment. “You destroy everything that you love,” and what do I have left now but a world of (hidden) ruins? Admiration of what once was here, but a lamentation too of what isn’t. I can see the outside, a dead flesh, but where has the blood drained? So we follow the blood, but no matter how much we pretend to understand pop and the internet — isn’t The Singles Jukebox a perfect example of it? — there is a moment when the situation overwhelms may lead you to scream: “Uncontrollable!”.
Thomas Inskeep: Great track that rumbles along like a 1983 Cyndi Lauper b-side – especially the way the guitar and bass throb like Link Wray transplanted into peak ’80s pop – or, alternately, “Since U Been Gone,” the template for such things. Headphone listening revealed a tougher song than I’d initially heard. Grimes’ use of her upper register at first annoyed me before I realized it complemented her vocal choices later. So well-balanced, so smartly chosen, this is masterful pop-rock, deserving to be a big pop radio hit.
Brad Shoup: As “Flesh Without Blood” acknowledges, it’s hard as shit to make pop music. I finally caught Grimes’s live act last weekend, and the work was on display: she was all arms and elbows, bounding between the front and her production setup. It was pitched at an ingratiating angle, the kind that makes the kind of pop I usually end up liking more than other people. But I caught the energy and not the songs: I simply don’t remember the pitch of “Flesh”‘s chorus dropping so coolly. She’s holding notes like a pop star, and making melodic choices like a topline writer. The track’s a clatter (there’s a nice laconic bassline in there somewhere), and the emphasis on guitar for the bridge feels like a concession. But there’s so much power, deployed so intelligently.
Will Adams: Before Art Angels, Grimes had always eluded me. I enjoyed her a lot at 2014’s Pitchfork Festival, I could understand her appeal as a purveyor, and I could champion her status as a highly visible female producer. That my coming around to her involved a glossy pop-rock album must say something about my biases, but that doesn’t matter much when it’s one of the best albums of the year. Its single, “Flesh Without Blood,” endears itself to me not through its fuzzed guitars and bridge burning message (though those certainly help) but those same quirks I picked up on years earlier. The whips and snaps of percussion, the falsetto lines that kickstart the chorus, the clipped guitar during the breakdown: these are the left-of-center details that reeled me in, and their continued presence keeps me there.
Josh Winters: I notice myself shimmying my shoulders to the beat in the bridge when it comes back in, and I shimmy them in a super cool but knowingly wacky way like how one would dance with their friends to their favorite punk-pop song. “Flesh Without Blood” elicits that kind of reaction out of me because the song itself embodies those very two vibes. It’s meticulously decorated like a Christmas tree with tiny little ornaments that act as aural candy for the listener and feel distinctly characteristic of Grimes’ master touch. As for the “cool,” she doesn’t even have to sneer at her lowly subjects when she has a mighty axe in tow. Besides, she could just slap you senseless then finish you off with a crack of a whip, all in five seconds’ time.
Cédric Le Merrer: At its best Art Angels sounds like Grimes’ stated goal of remixes for pop tracks you never heard. At its worst it’s unfocused songwriting with random synth noise thrown in, like a bad Sigue Sigue Sputnik track. This toes the line hesitantly, with bits of a great pop song poking out of nowhere before fading back into an unstructured mess.