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Charli XCX – Crash

6 Apr

Words by Raksha Thakur

Charli XCX knows that pop music isn’t about reinventing the wheel. In the age of social media ubiquity and its accompanying cult of authenticity, she doesn’t just play with the deja vu quality of pop music, but leans into it fully— a master of the art of making chart-friendly bops. In Charli’s hands, veering into radio-friendly territory is anything but conventional.

Charli is no stranger to pop music. She is a vocal fan of Britney Spears and the Spice Girls, and her smash hits “Boom Clap”, “I Love It” with Icona Pop, and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” dominated the 2010s. As a bankable songwriter, she has also penned some of the most indelible earworms sung by other singers like Selena Gomez, Camilla Cabello, and Blondie among others. Pushing against the constraints of being a Hyperpop singer – a genre she pioneered – Crash sees her return to form in a slick pop music vein.

Playing with the decidedly mass market image of the pop diva, Charli revitalizes mainstream pop through Crash. Anointed the queen of “the future of pop,” Charli slyly challenges this legacy with references to older pop music and audaciously sampling some of the most recognizable hits of the past twenty years. The album is informed by the illusion of the singularity of the major label pop star, all by herself at the very top. Charli hurtles into self-aware pop, with a sonic palette ranging from the ’80s, 2000s and 2010s. The result is an instant classic pop album.

Crash is bangers from the outset, clocking in at a little over half an hour, and opens with the slow, rhythmic adrenaline injection of the title track. The warm, synthy, and ‘80s inspired “New Shapes” featuring Christine and the Queens, and Caroline Polachek (formerly of Chairlift fame) may as well be a tongue-in-cheek kiss off to Hyperpop, if only for the time being. “Constant Repeat” is an arena-sized dance floor scorcher. Its title alludes to the behavior of someone obsessed with a person the way one would be with a song. “You could have had a bad girl by your side,” sings the iconoclast who has proven that she can play the pop game with finesse. “Good Ones” has an intro resembling Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and embodies a catchy ’80s revival sound of the 2000s that Charli grew up on.

Thematically, Crash spans a broad swathe, ranging from aesthetic odes to the witchy, from the occult to David Cronenberg’s risqué, critically-acclaimed movie of the same name. There is also a full circle aspect to Crash having an association with cars: many of her past songs have been about cars, such as “Vroom Vroom”, “White Mercedes” and the unreleased fan favorite “Taxi”.

Charli’s songwriting presents the pop staple of love and romance in all their different dimensions. Through the tracklist, she regularly interplays between provocative songs and softer, more ballad-like tunes. “Move Me” is a ballad with the tempo of a Justin Timberlake & Timba joint with some delicious R&B “oohs”. It is followed by the effortlessly sultry “Baby”, designed to make one do something between dancing and stripping. An unexpected guitar makes a startling appearance and contrasts beautifully with the melodious staccato of Charli’s occasionally manipulated voice at the end of the Kate Bush-by-way-of-New Order anthem “Lightning”.

Charli’s gift of using decade-defining sounds from synths to the scant use of autotuned vocal creates a sound all her own and totally new in the XCX world. For example, the posturing of a pop star in all its manufactured mass appeal goes one step further when Charli sings the chorus of “Beg For You” in a manner that’s a perfect mondegreen of the song she’s sampling from (“Cry For Me” by September). This track in particular (featuring our favorite Rina Sawayama) has all the best elements of Britpop aided by Charli’s touch: a nostalgic disc scratch, Jamie XX-like bass, the sampled breakbeat and melody of Milk Inc.’s “Don’t Cry”, and a duet about heartache that is irresistible to avoid dancing to. “Used To Know Me” takes the recognizably ‘90s club sound of “Show Me Love” and transforms it into a Britney-esque danceable bubble-gum pop bop.

In 2020, Charli released the raw, vulnerable how i’m feeling now – an album that closely involved Charli’s fans (or Angels, as they’re known across the internet), including features in in her music videos. In comparison, the contrast to her new era as a main pop girl baddie couldn’t be more extreme. With its carefully manufactured mystery and allure, this album is nothing short of an enormous pivot.

Pop stars are part of a larger commercial music machinery: cogs in collaborative efforts from record labels to songwriters, singers, and producers. In contrast, Charli is known for her collaborations with other musicians and producers as much as for her signature glitchy sound. Long resistant to the singularity of the pop star, Charli’s new album dives headlong into the illusory concept of the lone pop star while serving the very finest pop music out there. Crash shows a departure for a musician who refuses to be boxed into a genre at the top of her game making timeless catchy pop.

Top Five Most Anticipated Albums of 2022

30 Jan

As we near the end of the first month in this new year, it’s as good a time as any to flashforward to the rest of the year. What will 2022 bring? Will we see the end of the pandemic? Will life start returning to the old normal from late 2019, or is that gone forever? Whatever the answers may be for these deep questions lurking around, one thing we know for sure: 2022 is already shaping up to bring a ton of great music.

We skipped ahead to the rest of the calendar to see what’s on the radar. Below are our top five picks for the most anticipated albums of 2022 in chronological order; plus a few rumored releases with no dates just yet (doesn’t hurt to dream!).

Agree? Disagree? Missed something? Be sure to let us know in the comments.

Animal Collective – Time Skiffs

Release date: February 4

Time Skiffs, the 11th full-length album from the experimental pop group Animal Collective, is set to come out in just a few days. The album has been heralded through a couple of great singles already: the almost 60s-inspired “Prester John” and the sparkly “Walker” and in 2021, followed by the energetic “Strung With Everything” earlier this month. According to their label Domino Records, Time Skiffs is expected to be similar in sound to the well-received Strawberry Jam almost 20 years ago, which started off the band on their rise to fame. Here’s hoping that’s the case!

Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa

Release date: February 11

Austin-based rock band Spoon is set to release their tenth studio album Lucifer on the Sofa on February 11th. So far, two songs have been released from the album: the jangly “Wild” from earlier this month, and last year’s hard-hitting “Hardest Cut” – which was also one of our favorite songs of the year. The album was recorded in Austin – in drummer Jim Eno’s own studio Public Hi-Fi, no less – and the band has indicated that the city will feature in spirit. “We just wanted to do a different thing this time, and experience the vibe of a city,” said singer Britt Daniel in a recent interview with the magazine Texas Monthly. If the first two tracks and this backstory are anything to go by, Lucifer on the Sofa should be a fantastic addition to Spoon’s already legendary repertoire.

Charli XCX – Crash

Release date: March 18

English pop star Charli XCX is set to release her fifth album Crash on March 18th. Charli’s been teasing the album for the past four months, starting with the synth-heavy “Good Ones” back in September 2021. That dancefloor-ready track was followed in November by “New Shapes”, a stop-start song that featured fellow female pop singers Christine and The Queens and Caroline Polachek. If these two tracks are anything to go by, Crash is going to be impactful as the name suggests.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg

Release date: April 8

Despite having barely four songs to their name, British two-piece Wet Leg have built up a level of hype that you don’t see very often. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers – ex-college mates and decade-long friends – released their first track, the post-punk track “Chaise Lounge”, in June 2021, and haven’t looked back since. The disaffected, slackerish track became somewhat of a viral hit last year, and the band followed it up with the equally good “Wet Dream” in September. Wet Leg released the last two of their four songs so far in November 2021, the same day that they announced the release of their debut album Wet Leg on April 8, 2022. So far, the band has set the hype bar high; let’s hope the debut album lives up to it.

Fontaines DC – Skinty FIa

Release date: April 22

Fontaines DC, the Irish post-punk band, has announced the release of their new album Skinty Fia on April 22, following the Grammy-nominated sophomore album A Hero’s Death and incredible debut album Dogrel. Along with the album announcement, the band released the first single “Jackie Down the Line” – a heady track that juxtaposes lead singer Grian Chatten’s hypnotic vocals against jangly instrumentals. Both albums from Fontaines DC so far have been meditative yet catchy works that pay homage the band’s Irish heritage – we hope Skinty Fia is cut from the same mould.

Expected 2022 Releases

Arctic Monkeys

Matt Helders, the drummer for Sheffield-based indie rock mainstays Arctic Monkeys, made news in November last year with the admission that the band’s new album is “pretty much” ready for a 2022 release. They’ve also released a tranche of tour dates, including the first-ever Los Angeles version of Barcelona’s storied Primavera Sound festival. A new album does seem imminent – personally, we hope that it’s of a different flavor than 2016’s Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.

Rina Sawayama

After a fantastic debut album that blew us away in 2020, Japanese-British pop star Rina Sawayama is expected to release a sophomore album later this year. Ms. Sawayama has kept busy since her debut through joint tracks with the likes of Elton John and Charli XCX. In a Tweet last year, she seemed to indicate that a new album will drop in “late summer” 2022 – no word since, though.

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick fans have been waiting a long time since 2017’s DAMN. (which, fun fact, is the only non-jazz or classical album to ever win the Pulitzer Prize for Music). There hasn’t been a confirmation that a new album is set to drop in 2022, but Kendrick is set to perform at the Super Bowl LVI half-time show in a few weeks – that’s got to be a sign, right?

Cardi B

Shockingly, for all the time that she regularly spends in the public discourse, Cardi B only has one album to her name – her fantastic debut album Invasion of Privacy (2018). Of course, in the intervening three years, she’s had world-dominating hits like “WAP”, “Up”, and the recent collab with Lizzo called “Rumors”. There’s no indication yet that a new album is set to drop, but surely she has enough material to release one soon?

Lizzo

On a similar note and for similar reasons, Lizzo is also due for a follow-up album, especially after her chart-busting track “Rumors”. 2019’s Cuz I Love You gave her a much-deserved public spotlight – here’s hoping she takes advantage of the attention with a new album soon.

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