Tuesday 19 December 2017

Charli XCX - Pop 2

Charli XCX - Pop 2

A big enough name that she commands our attention but not yet in the upper echelons of pop, Charli XCX finds herself in a strange position at the end of 2017. A few months back she stormed YouTube with the gender-bending video for Boys, though it failed to storm the charts in the same way. Before that in March, she released ‘Number 1 Angel’, a brilliant yet under-appreciated release that was perhaps held back by its status as mixtape and not the long-awaited third album.

Now, at the tail end of the year, she’s back with another mixtape: ‘Pop 2’. It’s another chance to experiment with her sound and give us a taste of the “official” album to come, even if it doesn’t provide the big hit that fans are clamouring for.

Over time Aitchison has been slipping further into the PC Music scene: a record label run by A. G. Cook with a hyperactive take on pop, chaotic computerised textures and processed vocals. Cook produced much of ‘Number 1 Angel’ and returns for ‘Pop 2’. And where his influence on the music of Charli XCX has previously been subtle amongst more palatable pop (think the Super Mario chimes in Boys), it’s in full force here.

It’s perhaps most prominent on standout Femmebot, which takes the sound to its literal extreme. “Go fuck your prototype,” she boasts in the verse, “I’m an upgrade of your stereotype” over vibrant production of bleeps and bloops, choppy rhythms and vocals wrenched through a vocoder. She takes on the role of a musical cyborg, supported by Dorian Electra and Mykki Blanco whose rap references Ghost In The Shell. Yet through the sonic frenzy, Aitchison’s songwriting still shines through with a fun hook and robotic tongue in cheek lyrics. She’s the figurehead to take PC Music mainstream.

The pairing of Cook and Aitchison brings a collision of pop and computerised sound, but they’re always in balance. Hooks are cut and spliced together, synth melodies glitter and glow, and samples are overlayed in ways that only a computer could do. It’s a celebration of the computer as a musical medium, but with Aitchison bringing the human songwriting to tie it all together. Delicious is pure euphoria, a trance rave for replicants. The candy-coated Unlock It is an addictive listen. And Porsche sees her fantasising about swapping love for money over hip-hop inspired clipped beats.

That latter track is a collaboration with MØ following 3AM (Pull Up) from ‘Number 1 Angel’. And it’s one of many features on ‘Pop 2’, Aitchison proving her pop credentials by pulling in names like Carly Rae Jepsen, Caroline Polachek, Tove Lo and ALMA. Those last two feature on Out Of My Head, the lead single from the mixtape. It’s probably the most chart friendly of the songs here, but you get the impression Aitchison no longer cares about that. This release is all about experimentation, creating music freely without agenda.

The results are sometimes inconsistent and the PC Music sound is divisive. But the intriguingly titled final song Track 10 is a Pollock-esque splattering of samples that sounds like a demo of ideas, perhaps even a tantalising look at what’s yet to come.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Femmebot
* Delicious
* Porsche

Listen: ‘Pop 2’ is out now.