Album Review: Charli XCX – Charli

By Kiah Easton, Columns Editor
[Asylum/Atlantic; 2019]
Rating:  8/10

Key tracks: “Gone”, “Click”, “February 2017”

It’s Charli baby! More than two years after Charli XCX’s glossy hyper-pop project, Pop 2, she has released her third full-length album, reflectively entitled Charli. A continuation of the PC Music affiliated, experimental pop developed in her latest projects, Charli is saturated in the sounds of the future and isn’t shy of speaking her truth. With producers including A.G. Cook, Dylan Brady, EasyFun and Umru, the production is certainly not lacking and includes just as much experimentation and noise as it does glossy synths and thick bass.

Read more: Album Review: Charli XCX – Vroom Vroom

“Gone” hosts a beautiful set of minimalistic components that are fine-tuned like a machine that explodes into the chorus only to quickly tighten back up into the verse. The massive digital bass provides a foundation for Charli to decorate with her emotionally honest vocals. Contrasting the confident and bold production, the song is lyrically vulnerable, touching on insecurity and the feeling of being surrounded by people who don’t care about her. The chorus details Charli’s feelings without reserve: “I feel so unstable, fucking hate these people / How they’re making me feel lately.”  The production and energy of “Gone” are reminiscent of “Vroom Vroom”, but the former has a darker and more sincere tone, pushing past the materialistic aesthetic of PC Music.

Standing out with infectiously cute melodic elements and violently digital metal sound design, “Click” is an amalgamation of Charli’s pop appeal despite including more complexity and experimentation than your typical pop song. A gritty dose of aggression from Tommy Cash is balanced out by syrupy pop star vocals from Kim Petras. On the production side, within the list of collaborators is up and coming experimental noise-pop trailblazer Dylan Brady. His ability to create clouds of distortion that are unforgivingly abrasive but also refuse to forfeit any melodic sparkle is what makes “Click” memorable.

“February 2017” takes the second last position on this album and eases its listener into the final moments of Charli. Delicate melodies dance alongside Charli and Clairo’s back and forth vocals, building up into the chorus, which is full of atmospheric pads and continued intricate synth plucks. At its peak, “February 2017” feels like a victory reel for the project before being cut off abruptly by silence and sporadic static bursts. Tacked on to the end, almost as a short interlude, Yaeji takes the listener out with a whispery acapella.

On Charli, Charli XCX and her collaborators challenge themselves to create something that appeals to a wide audience while still experimenting and testing the limits of electronic music, and that is where the only problem on the project exists: the struggle to ride the line of accessibility and experimentation. Charli has felt the highs of mainstream success in the past and may be at a sort of crossroads in her career. The idea of fusing mainstream accessibility with experimental production only goes so far, and on this project, it feels like Charli is torn between the progressive style of music she has developed and her less impassioned pop success. Songs such as “Blame it On Your Love” and “1999”, although true works of art, stand out like a sore thumb amongst the offshoot of pop Charli is exploring. It seems as if those songs are on the album just to prevent Charli’s fear of mainstream failure, and they do not truly represent the vision she has for the future of music. Otherwise, Charli is a piece of work that is not only entertaining but also has the potential to push music forward and change the landscape of pop forever.

Listen here:

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