Released: February 20, 2012 (2012-02-20)
Visions is the third studio album by Canadian recording artist Grimes, released on January 31, 2012. Her first since signing with 4AD, the album was recorded entirely on Apple's GarageBand in Grimes' apartment over a three-week period. It was mixed by Grimes and her manager Sebastian Cowan at their La Brique Studio Space.Visions was streamed on the NPR website a week before it was released in the United States.
In November 2012, with the announcement that Visions was named album of the year by record shops Rough Trade and Resident, two exclusive bonus discs were made available with any purchase of the album in each shop, featuring remixes and rare tracks.
The music video for "Oblivion", directed by Emily Kai Bock, was shot in Montreal at Olympic Stadium and at McGill University's Molson Stadium, during a football game and a motocross rally. The video debuted on March 2, 2012 and shows Grimes amongst shirtless frat boys, as well as in a men's locker room surrounded by weightlifting athletes. "Art gives me an outlet where I can be aggressive in a world where I usually can't be, and part of it was asserting this abstract female power in these male-dominated arenas—the video is somewhat about objectifying men. Not in a disrespectful way, though", Grimes explained. In an interview with Spin, she revealed that the song is about "going into this masculine world that is associated with sexual assault, but presented as something really welcoming and nice. The song's sort of about being—I was assaulted and I had a really hard time engaging in any types of relationship with men, because I was just so terrified of men for a while."
The video for "Nightmusic" was directed by John Londono and premiered on May 10, 2012. It takes place in a "barren, greywashed" landscape, and features Grimes wearing one of the "pussy rings" she designed in collaboration with Montreal-based jeweler and sculptor Morgan Black.
The self-directed video for "Genesis" (released as the album's lead single on January 9, 2012) premiered on August 22, 2012. It was filmed in Los Angeles and co-stars rapper and stripper Brooke Candy, whom Grimes describes as "a very contemporary muse". In the video, Grimes is seen alongside a group of friends while driving an Escalade in the desert, holding an albino python in the back of a limousine, and posing in the woods. She said of the concept of the video: "It's loosely based on this painting by my favorite painter, Hieronymus Bosch, called The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. I wanted to play with Medieval/Catholic imagery. I was raised in a Catholic household and went to a Catholic school, and my childhood brain perceived medieval Catholicism as an action movie: There's this crazy omnipresent guy who can destroy you at any moment."
Visions received mostly positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 80, based on 42 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews". Lindsay Zoladz of Pitchfork Media awarded the album a "Best New Music" designation, claiming it "showcases a streamlined aesthetic, resulting in a statement that feels focused, cohesive, and assured. It's simple enough to leave room for Grimes to grow, but this thing is so compulsively listenable it's hard to come away from it wanting much more."The A.V. Club's Evan Rytlewski commented that on Visions, Grimes "continues her march toward accessibility, rendering hazy, quixotic sketches into tangible, hook-heavy electro-pop."The New York Times writer Jon Caramanica named Visions "one of the most impressive albums of the year so far". Rebecca Nicholson of The Guardian described Visions as a "smart, funny album, and it's almost impossible not to dance to it".Clash's Matthew Bennett wrote, "With 4AD's renewed vigor in all affairs electonique and Boucher's coherent elevation in both song quality and hook there'll be no stopping this creative, sensual explosion of humanity called Grimes." Benjamin Boles of Now called the album "richly textured and inventive", noting that "while Visions is unmistakably 2012 sonically in its references to R&B and hip-hop, it also fits remarkably gracefully into 4AD's impressive back catalogue of dream pop". Matt James of PopMatters praised the album as "an absolute blast" and opined, "Sure, it could have done without some of the interludes [...] but its overall sense of ambition is intoxicating. Visions' rebellious contrariness to evade classification is part of the design and certainly part of the charm."
Allmusic's Heather Phares concluded, "Fresh and surprisingly accessible despite its quirks, Visions is bewitching." In a review for Spin, Eric Harvey remarked that "[t]he pervasive sense on Visions is of a young woman carefully pushing out of her own introversion, which makes the moments where she sings from the gut instead of the throat ('Circumambient'), or strives for human-on-human sensuality ('Skin'), all the more thrilling." Harvey continued, "Boucher's talent lies in the balance of exploiting her gifts and leveraging what's come before her, but judiciously." Hayley Avron of Drowned in Sound wrote, "Above all and aside from the frustrations, the album is a well-crafted beast, beautifully constructed. Boucher's vocals [...] deliver emotion without meaning, floating over a kaleidoscope of sounds, skimming the surface of feeling like a sketch." Kevin Liedel of Slant Magazine viewed the album as "a flawed but intimate glimpse into the fantasies of its creator, and while it might not act as a springboard to greater fame for Grimes, it's just as satisfying to hear her take her bedroom music into a darkened basement, away from the prying world." However, Luke Winkie of Under the Radar felt that Visions "isn't as much of an evolution as it is an elongation; Boucher is still making warped, sparsely-populated electro-pop, and the potential still outweighs the content", adding that the album "stands as a half-formed concept". Reyan Ali of The Phoenix stated that "the ever-fascinating Boucher clearly has unusual ideas sloshing around her skull", but ultimately criticized the album as "unnecessarily oblique, listlessly long (48 minutes!), and painfully shapeless".Rolling Stone's Jody Rosen expressed that "Grimes isn't spooky enough to be 'ghostly,' and not substantial enough to hold your attention."
Allmusic proclaimed Visions the best album of 2012 and stated, "On Visions, Claire Boucher honed the mix of little-girl-lost vocals and dark synth-scapes she'd forged on her first two Grimes albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, into something just as unique, but far catchier."The Guardian named it the second best album of 2012, calling it "a masterpiece in gonzo pop that is weird, original and derivative at the same time". The NME ranked the album at number two on its 50 Best Albums of 2012 list. The album appeared at number five on Clash's list of The Top 40 Albums of 2012, and the magazine referred to Grimes as a "creative, sensual explosion of humanity". Pitchfork Media placed the album at number six on its list of The 50 Best Albums of 2012 and praised it as "a triumphant meeting of human and computer, an album that blows the traditions of both pop and experimental music to pieces and glues them back together in gorgeous, entrancing ways". PopMatters included the album at number eleven on its list of The 75 Best Albums of 2012, concluding, "Astoundingly catchy, occasionally haunting, and frequently brilliant, Visions is top-rate art and pop in equal measure, and deserves to be talked about for years to come."
British magazine Fact ranked Visions the twenty-sixth best album of 2012 and commented it "moved beyond the circumstantially lo-fi character of her early offerings Geidi Primes and Halfaxa for a profoundly inventive and just plain weird take on electro-pop. While the shifty rhythms can get a bit repetitive, they're usually voiced differently, and they're always paired with otherworldly synth-work that darts into uneasy, industrial territory."Rolling Stone placed Visions at number thirty-three on its 50 Best Albums of 2012 list, noting the album "uses EDM extremism, medieval chants, sugar-crusted melodies and her own sky-high voice to rethink pop music." The album was listed on Paste's The 50 Best Albums of 2012 at number fifty, and the magazine wrote, "With its constantly shifting tonal landscapes and non-standard structures, it's the kind of music that's exceptionally hard to peg on paper, but that never stops Visions' tracks from looping in your head long after it spins to a close."
"Oblivion" was ranked the best song of 2012 by both Pitchfork Media and PopMatters; the former called it "beautifully fragmented" and stating it "sound[s] both chilly and machine-like but also radiate[s] human warmth and imperfection", while the later opined that "this nouveau dream pop triumph is surely the album's calling card, the definitive encapsulation of everything that makes the record (not to mention the musician behind it) so beguiling to listen to." The NME named "Oblivion" and "Genesis" the sixth and sixteenth best tracks of 2012, respectively.Rolling Stone included "Oblivion" at number twenty-eight on its list of the 50 Best Songs of 2012, writing that on the song, Grimes "drops sugar-dust vocals over a thwunking synth loop, sounding perfectly dreamy until you listen to the words: 'I never walk alone after dark. . . . /Someone could break your neck/Coming up behind you and you'd never have a clue.' The catchiness only makes it creepier."