Charli XCX is immediately gratifying
When Charli Aitchison cries in an exasperated sigh, “Give me the poison, I love the poison, hooked on the poison,” she’s doing exactly what the toxic Britney did pre-balding/making horrific will.i.am dance atrocities – crafting infectious pop music. Fueled by soaring melodies and synth surges, it’s the type of music which runs the course of your body, curdles and kicks throughout your limbs and resonates for days to come.
Charli XCX’s debut True Romance is unashamedly a pop record, though for some bizarre reason pop still seems a dirty word in music. Despite the likes of Grimes, Solange and Sky Ferreira proving how pop can be both interesting and emotionally engaging, it’s something that people struggle to come to terms with or admit that they’re actually enjoying.
Opener Nuclear Seasons is a couple of years old now, but manages to evoke the immediate sense of excitement I first felt when hearing it. Warped keys are pitched against melded snare samples, casting a vivid soundscape to the imagery laden lyrics. The use of visual imagery is a common thread throughout the album. In You’re The One she’s “dancing in the darkness” with “pink and lilac”, Set Me Free sees her heart “crushed in velvet” and Grins has her “falling through the clouds” into “beaches and oceans”.
Production wise, True Romance is an auditory feast of forward-thinking samples and beats aimed at the mainstream. You (Ha Ha Ha) is centered around the staccato Gold Panda sample ‘You’, flicking and jumping over a 4/4 beat while somehow providing a space for a massive melody and ear-worm lyric, “Good job, you fucked it up”. Where You (Ha Ha Ha) was a direct and abrasive cut of power-pop, So Far Away is an expansive spiraling collage of pitch-shifted samples and hazy synths, culminating in a sound that I can only describe as lush (sorry).
It’s on Cloud Aura where Aitchison’s stylistic integrity slips by allowing LA rapper Brooke Candy to spit a heinous string of half-rhymes over what could be a fantastically woozy cloud-rap beat. Equally, album closer Lock You Up falls short in its half-arsed and overly saccharine delivery, bringing relatively nothing to the table. A track from the excellent Super Ultra mixtape would have been a far more interesting and cohesive addition. Charli XCX’s strength lies in her ability to accurately and effortlessly convey the most basic and visceral of emotions. Standout Take My Hand builds up from tinkering glitch-hop beats into strikes of sampled strings and pared down vocals calling, “Why you gotta go to sleep/Don’t go to sleep/Let’s go out/Get blown away/Lost in the dark/Get real high/And never come down”. It doesn’t try to be emotionally profound, just vertiginously euphoric (granted, it is about taking ecstasy). Following is other highlight Stay Away, a dark anthem which earned her the goth-pop tag. Blustering drums churn away against Aitchison’s rich aching vocals to the chorus line “why couldn’t you stay away”. It’s an impassioned angry song where we see Aitchison at her most vulnerable yet affecting.
When I was 15 I went through a fairly angsty alternative phase, which mostly rooted itself in my obsession for the North London scenesters. I’d endlessly peruse Camden markets, dress like a dwarven Noel Fielding and profess to anyone that Babyshambles were the best band ever. Somewhere along the line I ended up being invited to a Charli XCX show, but I panned her as some new rave kid my age whose merits were in her bravery rather than her creativity or actual musical prowess…
Five years on I find myself on the back of a motorbike in Ho Chi Minh blasting a song she wrote when I was 15 and unashamedly being seduced by the sounds of pure, brilliant, immediately gratifying pop music.
Words by Marcus Thaine.