Review Summary: "It's Charli..."
Ever since the twenty-five year old’s collaboration with PC music on last year’s Vroom Vroom EP, Charli XCX has been increasingly indulging in chaotic streams of pop production with her latest few outputs. Experimenting with more heavy and more daring production from aggressive surges of synth to erratic percussion and autotuned melodies, this year’s Number One Angel mixtape proved to be a refreshing churn of pop and bubblegum bass, and her next project is more of the same—perhaps a little heavier, and a little crammed with features. Over the course of ten tracks, Charli XCX employs thirteen guests, some bad and some great, and to some extent, it’s nearly as good as her previous effort. It’s chaotic and pulsating of pop characteristics.
On Pop 2, Charlotte Aitchison almost sees the genre differently. With more spotlights on other artists, Charli XCX uses it as a celebration of pop partying and friendship, from the chunk of EDM bangers that mildly surface, to the emotional alone time she spends outside the parties. What’s most important is that she’s with a group of fun devotees, whom she shares the best of partying with, and Pop 2 embodies that recreation. Just the other day she commented in a tweet saying “Pop 2 was created in a manic environment, across multiple cities,” which is easy to believe. Opening track “Backseat” has the most hectic use of auto-tune she’s ever used—that is, until third track, “Lucky”—and to top it off, Carly Rae Jepsen suddenly enters with her sweetened vocals. Shines of MP3-like clashes (it’s hard to explain)—an almost alien sounding noise—cascade directly in the background and stick throughout the two’s shared vocals. It’s different and pretty bitchin.
In fact, each track on the mixtape is composed of experimental pop; working with A.G. Cook of PC Music lets her fit in with the bubblegum bass tones, especially when next to a long list of collaborators. “I Got It” is a four minute track with four different vocalists, and it’s also her heaviest and most braggadocious. Lacking a good hook and verse from Charli, her peers make the track the empowering banger it is. In a recent tweet, Charli XCX said that when cupcakKE sent the artist her vocals for the track, “i got straight in my car and drove round blaring it soooo fucking loud and dancing sooo fucking hard.” The rapper’s verse is loud and licking—an album highlight that might just be the best on the entire thing.
“Unlock It” has the catchiest hook yet, encased in a dreamy collection of quickly paced sounds and a simple, almost reserved drum beat. All the way from South Korea, Jay Park jumps on the track, proving just how considerable the range of features are on the mixtape. Some don’t work, however; on “Delicious” Tommy Cash sounds nothing more than turned up to eleven auto-tune, despite the uses that Charli XCX employs on the track. Rapper Mykki Blanco appears on “Femmebot”, a sexy and fun dance track that just doesn’t fit her intensity, no matter how wonderfully it is portrayed on her array of solo material.
Charli ends the project with “Track 10”, which is probably the most messy, anarchic, and fascinating thing she’s put out. It’s five minutes of intrusive noises and auto-tuned melodies, fitted against harps and choirs, and missing a tangible beat until its end. Synths rage on, the percussion kicks in, and Charli XCX fades the album out with her mixtape catchphrase, “it’s Charli.” The track is the last one to say goodbye to her normal brand of pop, the kind that was exemplified on 2015’s Sucker, as she finds herself in a new and different kind of pop environment that’s mostly for the better. Perhaps the hooks don’t sink as well and the features aren’t balanced enough, but, Pop 2 does deliver a second character to the artist’s musical delicacies that no doubt enliven her taste for portraying pop music.