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Album Review: "Pop 2", Charli XCX

Damn, this is definitely on the higher end of pop releases I’ve listened to this year. I wish I’d listened to it before my year end list, but you can only do what you can do I guess. Charli XCX is now two albums and four mixtapes into her career, and this is the first full project of hers that I’ve really sat down and listened to. I feel like I can say confidently that I like the direction she’s headed in. The production here has heavy contribution from A.G. Cook, and it’s definitely pristinely sleek and refined; every song has its own hidden elements to discover. Several songs have their own individual distinctions to them that don’t show up in a lot of places in the project, like the entirely vast and spaced-out production in Lucky, or the harps and choirs in Track 10, or the glitch influence in Femmebot. But the elements are incorporated tastefully, in a way that still makes the entire project feel cohesive for the most part. Some of these tracks also climax in ways that have similar structure and seem to go hand and hand with each other, but with individualized elements within the production. These moments became highlights of the album for me without a doubt. The lyrics here are straightforward, but they’re effective; they make you feel the rush but also the pitfalls and realities of love. Some areas are more compelling than others, but the lows don’t take away from the project’s impact.

Backseat is definitely a highlight to the track listing here and has grown on me with every listen. It’s laced with sharp, clean cut synths, and the contrast between the heavy kickdrum and electro leads with the spacey ambient sounds in the background are gorgeous. That Carly Rae Jepsen feature was so fitting for the song too; the vocal performances from both artists are stunning. Eventually the song fades into shimmery leads that build to a chaotic grimy, punchy climax. Another obvious high point is Tears, primarily dominated by drums and eerie elongated synths that build into lavish and elegantly layered leads. Track 10 might be the most experimental cut here; it ties together blissful strings and angelic, atmospheric production with a punchy buildup.

Songs like Out of My Head and Unlock It feel pretty straightforward, but they’re still perfectly enjoyable and feel natural in context of the track listing. They’re both lyrically solid, well-produced, and fit the bill of the album; they work as a nice break from the previously mentioned experimentation. Moments like this are where the record definitely convinces me of its quality and makes me disappointed it doesn’t stay this compelling and consistent the whole way through.

The record unfortunately falls off in quality with tracks that have messy or out of place production. The autotune-heavy vocals and elongated textures in Lucky feel a little awkward in the context of the rest of the project. I Got It’s structure seems pretty all over the place and abrupt in a similar way; its tone doesn’t fit the flow of the album, with features and lyrics that don’t really feel relevant to its larger purpose. Most of the rest of the features on the album don’t add much to its impact either and feel thrown in for the sake of it. Tommy Cash on Delicious and Mykki Blanco on Femmebot are pretty good examples of this; both have kind of an awkward flow and nothing to bring to the table lyrically either, so it would’ve made more sense to just leave them out.

Lyrical high points here are on songs like Backseat, Tears or Porsche; and these three really seem to translate what the album is about on the whole. Backseat perfectly conveys the feeling of loneliness, with verses like “I can't escape all the voices, and so, I turn it up, I go to parties with strangers so I can figure it out, run through a city at midnight to feel like a star, I want it all, even if it's fake; In the backseat, your song, so loud, drivin’ so fast, I’m better off alone.” Tears gets into the ugly and heartbreaking side of love with lines like “Say your name so nervously now, kiss in the hallway, fade out” and “When I had nothing, you gave me silhouette dreams”. Porsche seems to be about how money can negatively play into relationships, and specifically how someone used Charli for this side of her. For the most part, even where the lyrics aren’t mind-blowing, they’re enjoyable and well-written.

Pop 2 isn’t perfect, but in retrospect, the fact it was released as a mixtape makes a lot of sense. There are high and low points and different risks taken in a majority of the songs, and the highlights do outweigh the shortcomings. Projects like this definitely have value in being unique enough not to be seen just as another mainstream pop record, but not super difficult to listen to or overwhelmingly experimental. It’s accessible but enjoyable, and one of my favorite pop releases of 2017.

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