Showing posts with label charli xcx. Show all posts
Showing posts with label charli xcx. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

video review: 'charli' by charli xcx

First big album review of the week (in a week stacked with some heavy ones), but next up is a frankly monstrous episode of Billboard BREAKDOWN, so stay tuned!

Monday, September 16, 2019

album review: 'charli' by charli xcx

I saw Charli XCX live less than a month ago. I saw her on the main stage at Reading Festival as she blew through so many of the hits she had either created or cowritten and she was dancing her ass off to ramp up the energy for a tough afternoon set... and yet even as I watching, I had the lingering feeling that something was wrong. This should all be working... and yet it wasn't quite getting there.

And when I reflect upon her career and the constant spurt of hype from critics whenever she pushes out another genre-pushing pop project, I'm left with the niggling feeling that Charli XCX has been torn between a few different worlds for a long time. On the one hand, you have the mainstream push where she could absolutely be huge, with the distinctive voice, the theatricality, the knack for hooks, the surprisingly deep well of connections and guests she can pull upon, where she can build a whole set on those moments! But that's not all she is, and where she's mused publicly where she might be better off writing behind the scenes... because the other side of her art is the PC Music and SOPHIE side with the contorted electronics and sounds dragging pop music forward kicking and screaming, where she's grabbed so many critics, but not really the mainstream in the same way, at least not yet. At the festival I left convinced that for a nightclub or theater show she would be far more effective with her experimental work instead of fighting to hold a listless and scorching festival audience mid-afternoon, and fair enough - atmosphere is often one of the hardest things for any artist to control or manipulate, especially on a massive stage where she didn't seem to have a huge team behind her - but at this point I feel like I've been watching Charli's hype for most of the decade, and while I have to applaud her sustainability, you have to wonder why her balancing act hasn't quite blown her up into a superstar yet, especially if the music is good. Some of that I have to blame on her team and label, but when you are an artist ahead of your time with hype that seems bigger than her audience... well again, it's tough.

Now for me, I've never quite been truly 'wowed' by a Charli XCX project all the way through - more of my lingering tonal issues with the PC Music camp which don't always connect - but hey, I do find her a fascinating artist and I did have real hopes for Charli, so did it click this all the way this time?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

video review: 'pop 2' by charli xcx (5th year anniversary!)

Okay, this was a treat to cover (lot better than the anniversary video I was stuck with last year...).

Anyway, now that Billboard BREAKDOWN is out of the way, I think I'm in the mood for something kind of similar to this... stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

album review: 'pop 2' by charli xcx (five year anniversary!)

I'm not surprised this beat out everything else on the docket by a considerable margin. Yes, J.I.D. and N.E.R.D. got close and thankfully those sadists who wanted me to review Heartbreak On A Full Moon never really got groundswell, but if there was a project that attracted considerable attention very late last year, it was this one.

And when you think about it in a traditional context, it's a strange one too, but that's more because Charli XCX's entire career has been bizarre. Her debut True Romance in 2013 never really got traction - mostly because it was painfully mediocre - but she still had 'I Love It' with Icona Pop and her follow-up Sucker a year later had a genuine hit with 'Boom Clap' and seemed like the perfect project to break her through into the mainstream with a distinctive sound and style... and then that didn't happen. Instead, she decided to join the cutting edge of modern pop production by linking up with the P.C. Music crew and SOPHIE, which led to a lot of critical acclaim and a diehard cult following, but not really any hits. Instead, we got EPs like Vroom Vroom and mixtapes like Number 1 Angel and the one we'll be talking about today, Pop 2. And given that I only opened my schedule to EPs and mixtapes as of this year, I didn't really weigh in on either project, so let me handle that now: they're pretty good. I will say it's notable how much SOPHIE's sound has evolved since her production work on Vroom Vroom and that Number 1 Angel definitely had its high points - most notably when cupcakKe showed up - but for as much hype as Charli XCX has gotten for this work, I was a little underwhelmed. Granted, I'm the weirdo who still thinks 'Need Ur Luv' is her best ever song by a considerable margin, but I think my larger issue is that the main synth melody lines felt kind of undercooked when we got them at all. But hey, neither of these have received the level of hype that Pop 2 got, so hopefully that was the one that really clicked, right?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

billboard BREAKDOWN - hot 100 - december 27, 2014

This week, it was all about upward momentum. As the rest of 2014 continues to drop away, the new 'hits' for 2015 are rising to take their place, whether we want them or not. Plus, with the continued onslaught of Christmas music and The Voice, the biggest surprise arrivals came from the biggest album of the week that debuted with little promotion and no open airplay - and in a really nice change of pace, some of the best songs from that album are the ones that landed on the charts, which is awesome.

I'll elaborate more on that in a bit, but it's time to start with our Top 10! Lots of movement this week... well, outside of the top two, that is. Unsurprisingly, 'Blank Space' by Taylor Swift has a stranglehold on #1 thanks to finally taking the top in airplay to match her dominance in sales and YouTube, but Hozier's 'Take Me To Church' isn't going down without a fight, with steady airplay gains supplementing strong sales and absolutely monstrous streaming. Yet right below that we've got 'Uptown Funk' by Mark Ronson & Bruno Mars reaching a new peak at #3, with a very similar pattern to Hozier in that they're just waiting for airplay to catch up to strong sales and streaming. And at #4 we've got 'Lips Are Moving' by Meghan Trainor, who owes most of her success to YouTube, with only decent streaming and sales keeping her solid as her airplay slowly picks up. And with the first movement in three weeks we've got 'I'm Not The Only One' by Sam Smith stepping up to #5, who really owes his success to just being consistent across the board and those above him losing steam and dropping out. 

Now we'll get to those, but now we've got to talk about our surprise new arrival to the top 10 at #6, 'Thinking Out Loud' by Ed Sheeran, who really owes the majority of his success to massive streaming and YouTube and pretty damn solid sales as his airplay struggles to catch up. Honestly, I'm not the biggest fan of the song - it's a little too sleepy and Ed Sheeran has better songs off of x - but I've got nothing against the song and it works for what it is as a sincere, passionate love song and it's nice to see a guitar solo in the Top 10. But beneath him are two songs that look to be on the way out, 'All About That Bass' by Meghan Trainor at #7 and 'Animals' by Maroon 5 - effectively for the same reasons too, hemorrhaging airplay and weaker numbers across the board, with only YouTube giving Meghan Trainor the edge. 'Love Me Harder' by Ariana Grande ft. The Weeknd steps up to #9, holding steady thanks to consistent airplay gains and huge streaming even despite a weak sales week, which leaves 'Shake It Off' by Taylor Swift to cling to #10 pretty much on YouTube alone. I see it dropping out of the Top 10 next week, unless it somehow gets a boost.

Next up we have our drop-outs and losers, and there was a fair number of the former. '0 To 100/The Catch Up' by Drake, 'Day Drinking' by Little Big Town, and thankfully 'Burnin' It Down' by Jason Aldean all drop to recurring, but 'i' by Kendrick Lamar and 'Look At You' by Big & Rich lost even more steam to drop off after even less. And it looks like there's a few more on a similar path - 'Fireball' by Pitbull ft. John Ryan drops to 88, 'Yellow Flicker Beat' by Lorde continues its tumble down to 86 as more people forget about Mockingjay, and mercifully the disaster that I spoke at length on - 'God Made Girls' by RaeLynn - drops back to #71. Only wish I could claim credit for it. As for the other losers, there are only two major drops, 'Make It Rain' by Ed Sheeran - unsurprising, given it was a song tied to Sons of Anarchy and the show ended just over a week ago - and 'Mary Did You Know?' by Pentatonix. And I would be surprised this song dropped again, especially given the Christmas season, but it's been bouncing around since its debut, so no real surprise.

And speaking of Christmas, let's take a look at our gainers, two of which owe their success to the holidays. Mariah Carey unsurprisingly rises ten slots to #40 with 'All I Want For Christmas Is You', and Ariana Grande leaps back up #64 with 'Santa Tell Me'. And in other, less obvious examples of holiday cheer, Carrie Underwood continues finding Jesus with 'Something In The Water' rising to #38, Blake Shelton and Ashley Monroe sing about exes trying to find solace together on 'Lonely Tonight' jumping considerably to #54, Usher's 'I Don't Mind' continues its steady climb to #37 by not judging a woman who's a stripper, and 'I Lived' by OneRepublic has that general uplifting holiday feel so I'm guessing that's why it jumped up to #67, along with 'Heroes (We Could Be)' by Alesso ft. Tove Lo bounced up to #35, the latter proving EDM isn't quite dead yet. Yet, there are other songs that got a boost that have significantly less holiday cheer. 'G.D.F.R.' by Flo Rida ft. Sage The Gemini and Lookas gains to #87 despite being the blatant 'Talk Dirty' ripoff that it is, and 'Just Gettin' Started' by Jason Aldean goes to #84 because 'Burnin' It Down' is gone and the charts need something to replace it. And yet worst of all, 'Only' by Nicki Minaj ft. Drake, Lil Wayne & Chris Brown rocketed up to #12. That's right, this is within spitting distance of the Top 10. I'll keep this quick: Nicki Minaj is the only redeeming feature of this song, the synth line is pathetically underweight, every single guest star embarrasses themselves, with Drake probably sounding the worst, and it's easily the worst track on The Pinkprint and single-handedly responsible for knocking that album back. It's an atrocious track coasting by on cheap gossip and controversy to be successful, and the fact Nicki put this garbage on her album instead of 'Win Again' or 'Truffle Butter' - the latter of which has Drake and Lil Wayne on it - is a sign Young Money's management need their heads examined. Preferably with 2x4s.

But ignoring that piece of shit, let's talk about our recurring entries!

Oh wow, I didn't expect this. I've never been a fan of Darius Rucker or his former band Hootie & The Blowfish - they were the sort of adult-alternative act that bored the piss out of me and generally catered to those who wanted the least threatening music possible. So Darius Rucker transitioning to make country didn't surprise me, but 'Wagon Wheel' was a damn good song - mostly because it was cowritten by Bob Dylan, but still! This, though - wow, talk about selling out. From the incredibly clean production to the by-the-numbers forgettable songwriting that features repeating words to fill up space for no good reason to Darius Rucker trying to add swagger to his voice and failing miserably, this is desperation personified in a song. Darius Rucker is desperately trying to leap on the bro-country bandwagon, but this is the end of 2014, and outside of a few exceptions, bro-country has effectively collapsed. This... this is just embarrassing for everyone involved. Next!

Yeah, I can't even lie, I think this song is actually pretty damn good, regardless of whether this song is about Harry Styles or not - it's got that retro-old school glam vibe with the tight 80s synthpop guitar line that actually carries a melody throughout the whole song, punchy beat, and Taylor giving a surprisingly passionate performance. Yeah, there is an element of self-love to this song, but it's also balanced out by both partner in the relationship recognizing their own flaws and screw-ups. There's balance and nuance here, and I can appreciate that.

Okay, now we're onto our list of new arrivals - most of which I've already talked about in some capacity, which hopefully means this will be pretty easy. Starting with...

100. 'Break The Rules' by Charli XCX - I've already talked at length about this song in my Sucker review, but I will say it's got one of the better melodies from the record, especially in the synth breakdown right after the chorus. But as much as I like most of this song, there are still problems - the EDM crescendo over the chorus always feels a little overstuffed to me and detracts from a pretty damn solid textured bassline and lyrically... seriously, 'discotheque'? Who says that? And seriously, if that's her definition of 'breaking the rules', I'm not all that impressed.

98. 'When I Was Your Man' by Chris Jamison - we got a lot of piano ballads in 2013, and 'When I Was Your Man' by Bruno Mars was one of the better ones - pretty basic, but filled with genuine regret for being a shitty boyfriend, and Bruno Mars does a lot to sell it. But honestly, I might honestly like Chris Jamison's version even more. The thinner piano tone, the fragments of organ, and Jamison throws himself into it with a ton of passion and that falsetto... it was impressive, and it's not surprising he landed in the finals... only to lose, but we'll get to that.

95. 'No Role Modelz by J.Cole - of the two J.Cole songs that landed on the charts this week, this is definitely the weaker one, and it highlights a lot of the problems I had with 2014 Forest Hills Drive, especially with J.Cole's issues with women. Yeah, there's self-awareness in the song, about how thin his fame might feel being a 'b-list celebrity', and yeah, it's got a pretty damn slick melody line, but it highlights the incredibly shaky moral high ground on which J.Cole is standing. For as much as he rants about not wanting reality show starlets, he's still screwing them anyway and behaving like a condescending dick about it, spending most of the outro calling her shallow. Sure, it's the life she chose - hell, it's the life he chose too, and he tries to justify it by saying 'no role models', but with the self-awareness undercutting the track it doesn't justify his actions, and it sure as hell means you should treat her with some respect. And it really bugs me when he ends his verse with a shout, 'Martin Luther King would have been on Dreamville'! Yeah, evoking one of the most important figures in the civil rights movement on your track about calling women shallow - self-awareness or not, that makes you look like an asshole. The more I hear this song, the less I like it.

93. 'Come Join The Murder' by The White Buffalo & The Forest Rangers - okay, we've got another song from Sons of Anarchy on the chart, and unlike 'Make It Rain', this one is more on the country side of folk. And it's less of a murder ballad than a song about falling to temptation thanks to the darkness in oneself - and yet the tone of the song is a little weird to me. A lot of major chords on the chorus melody, reasonably clean guitar tones, the backing vocals coming in for the later choruses, it feels a little too upbeat, not quite as dark as one would expect for the subject matter. Solid guitar solo and some good texture, and the songwriting has some power, but I think this song could have afforded to go a little darker, and it does feel a little long. Still good, but it could have been great.

90. 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' by Sam Smith - okay, when you think of Christmas singers to evoke a jovial atmosphere of holiday cheer, Sam Smith would not be the artist topping my list. That said, 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' is one of the better choices for him, as it can be played with a melancholy touch, which Sam Smith does. As it is - look, I'm not a Sam Smith fan. He's got a good voice, but he's got a certain austerity to his delivery that lacks real driving soul to me, which means even by the standards of depressing Christmas songs, this doesn't really do much for me. Sorry.

81. 'Make It Rain' by Matt McAndrew - I already talked about this song last week when it was covered by Ed Sheeran, so with its sudden success I wasn't surprised to see it land on The Voice. And yet it doesn't work nearly as well, mostly because Matt McAndrew's voice or instrumentation doesn't have the snarl or raw potency to make it all that gripping. I can see playing it a little closer to gospel, but Ed Sheeran's rougher, more hollow production is just a much better fit for the song. In other words, McAndrew's cover fails because of something he really can't control - he's on a reality show designed to appeal to the mass-public, and what was once a song accompanying a grimy show about a biker gang becomes neutered as a result.

73. 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole - see, this is so much better, and it gets there by being a much better representation of J.Cole at his best. I've already talked about this extensively when I reviewed 2014 Forest Hills Drive, so I'll restate what I said before: one of the best songs of the album that works thanks to a great old-school beat and melody and J.Cole's deeper, more vulnerable songwriting in a story about losing his virginity. The details are what makes the song work as well - you can buy this high school story about him trying to be a big shot to win over a girl even though he was a virgin, only to realize she was relying on him for the exact same thing. It's the sort of aggressively real song you rarely ever see on the Hot 100, and the fact that this song landed while J.Cole's actual single from the album didn't even crack the chart is very tell. Damn great song.

59. 'The Old Rugged Cross' by Craig Wayne Boyd - okay, there's a bit of a story behind this song, which was written over a hundred years ago by George Bennard and has held up as a reliable country gospel standard that's been covered by dozens of artists from Johnny Cash to Al Green, from George Jones to Merle Haggard, to Alan Jackson to Brad Paisley. So after listening to a whole slew of those covers before checking out Craig Wayne Boyd - the best being a toss-up between Al Green and Alan Jackson - how does his turn out? Well, considering it's a country gospel song being played on network television, about as well as you can expect. It's not surprising Craig Wayne Boyd won The Voice, because he's one of the few singers who has vocal texture, but I can't say I loved the overstated vocals or bombast of his cover with the belting. Granted, I prefer it over Merle Haggard's downbeat monologue over one of the verses, but there's a middle ground, and I'm not sure he got there. Incredible voice, though.

So that's our week - overall, a pretty damn good week for new chart arrivals, which makes my choice of a favourite this week tricky... oh, who am I kidding? Despite my harsh words, 'Wet Dreamz' by J.Cole easily walks away with it, with probably 'Style' by Taylor Swift as the runner up. Worst is no contest - Darius Rucker's ridiculous and embarrassing stab at bro-country with 'Homegrown Honey', with Matt McAndrew not managing to follow Ed Sheeran's lead with 'Make It Rain'. Overall, though, I can't complain, and let's hope it's a good sign for weeks to come - although knowing what I do in terms of album tracks that'll probably chart next week, I doubt it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

video review: 'sucker' by charli xcx

Well, this happened. Honestly wish it could have been a little better, but it is a step in the right direction.

Next up... okay, D'Angelo for sure, but what else... either way stay tuned!

album review: 'sucker' by charli xcx

There are a lot of pop acts that I wish I liked a lot more than I do, acts that might be very popular or who get a ton of critical acclaim and yet for many reasons just don't connect or click with me whatsoever. Because even though I'm a critic who likes all sorts of off-beat, weird material, I also cover the pop charts, and since there's nothing wrong with liking pop music in principle, I just wish more of it managed to connect with me.

Charli XCX is one of those artists, and how much I've liked or appreciated her music is really all over the map. 'I Love It', her feature on the smash hit from Icona Pop, was one of my favourite hit songs of last year, but having relistened to her last album since I reviewed it in written form, it still doesn't grip me. The heavy, fuzz-saturated beats, the gothic textures that recall a lot of darkwave's heaviness without the killer melodies, the lyrics that were sketched so broadly to be borderline insubstantial, and Charli XCX herself not presenting a consistent or all that likable persona. True Romance was trying to play itself as portentous and serious, but the writing or performances were rarely strong enough to hold up, and I was just left disappointed every time I tried to relisten to the album.

So with that in mind, I had a certain amount of trepidation in approaching her newest record Sucker, cited as a massive change in genre and focus to more of a pop rock sound. And while that was interesting, I haven't exactly been wild about either of her two biggest performances this year, her chorus on 'Fancy' with Iggy Azalea or her solo hit tied to The Fault In Our Stars 'Boom Clap'. It's not like they were bad, just lacking in distinctive flavour to really grip me, so I wasn't sure what I was getting with this record. But since this record has been getting rather shocking amounts of critical acclaim, I figured what the hell and dove in - what did I get?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

the top ten best hit songs of 2013 - video

So this turned out as well as I expected. List 2/4 done, stay tuned for more!

the top ten best hit songs of 2013

Here's a fun fact about me - as much as I nitpick and criticize and say all manner of things people don't want to hear about the music they love, I've got my own fair share of popular music that I cherish, appreciate, or outright love. Sometimes, quality rises to the top, and while none of this particular list will show up on my upcoming list of the best songs of this year, I still think they're worth mentioning if only to reinforce some vague sense of populism that I have. But really, it's nice to point out that some mainstream music gets popular because it's good, and sometimes pop or country or mainstream hip-hop can be just as good as the most underground of indie hits.

Now the rules are as before: the songs have to debut on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end chart this year - so as good as 'Die Young' by Ke$ha or 'Some Nights' by fun. are, I can't exactly mention them again on this list after they made my list last year. And on that note, don't expect any sort of coherent theme to these picks. While my year-end worst list had an abundance of terribly vapid luxury rap (especially near the top), on a year as varied and confused as the 2013 chart would indicate, my choices might surprise you. And fair warning: you won't agree with the majority of this list.

So let's get started with some Honourable Mentions, shall we?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

album review: 'true romance' by charli xcx

Today, let's talk about electronica trends in pop music.

I'll admit right of the gate that I'm not entirely up to date with everything coming out of the EDM/dubstep/trance/house scene, mostly because I don't tend to find much of that material all that interesting or engaging. I admit that most of this comes from my personal preferences in music: I like songs to have coherent lyrics, that tell stories and convey a message. I like music that can move me on both literary and musical levels, which is why I find songwriters like Nick Cave and Jim Steinman and Arjen Lucassen so compelling. These guys explore deep, complex themes in their music, and they support that music with intricately constructed lyrics that are poetic and have a lot to say.

EDM (short for electronic dance music), on the other hand, tends to operate on a different level, often without lyrics entirely. It runs more on feel and emotion and flow to evoke its  image, and thus I find it difficult to parse out what this sort of music is trying to say. What I have managed to discover is that a large quantity of this music (not all of it, settle down) tends to be about losing oneself in the dance experience and little more.

And so when we look at the pop charts now, I can't say that I like the trend of EDM creeping into pop all that much. Now, there are exceptions where this can work excellently (the immediate example is Swedish House Mafia's 'Don't You Worry Child', featuring John Martin), but one of the unfortunate remnants of the club boom is the presence of house/EDM DJs becoming power players in pop music. And it really doesn't help matters when the two leading collaborators in this genre, David Guetta and Calvin Harris, are really goddamn boring and seem to sap the individuality and personality from anyone they work with. 

Part of this problem comes, I theorize, from three things: tonal dissonance, lyric simplification, and a lack of restraint on the part of the DJ. The first factor comes into play when you realize that most EDM is written for dancing - and not all pop music is intended for this. I remember hearing so many attempted remixes of Gotye's 'Somebody That I Used To Know' last year, the DJ trying to turn it into a dance track - which completely shatters the atmosphere that Gotye and Kimbra were trying to create. The problem gets worse when you have artists actually trying to write their lyrics to the EDM beats, which can lead to a stripping away of nuance and pacing. This happened twice with David Guetta last year in 'Turn Me On' (featuring Nicki Minaj) and 'Titanium' (featuring Sia) - in both cases, the lyrics feel token and trite compared to the instrumentation, which unfortunately happens to be boring as all fuck. But the worst case of all comes when the DJ's production completely overpowers the singer and renders his/her presence superfluous on the track. Calvin Harris is the most egregious offender here, somehow managing to overpower Florence Welch (lead singer of Florence & The Machine and one of the most powerful vocalists of the past couple of years) on 'Sweet Nothing'.

Most of these problems can be linked to a lack of restraint and modulation (the usage of both soft and loud sounds in the mix). You'd think that EDM DJs, who have more access to the track layering than most, would have better control of these factors, but when you also consider that they tend to remix music for the club, you can understand why the modulation gets stripped away. But either way, it tends to mean that a lot of the little factors that can make EDM/house music actually interesting fall away when it comes onto the pop charts. 

However, that's not to say that EDM trends can be interesting and engaging when done correctly, or that dance synthpop can't be just as good as other music - the careers of Kylie Minogue and Robyn are a testament to that. So when I'm confronted with the debut album of Charli XCX, an English synthpop artist, I was immediately intrigued (although significantly cautious when I read this album has been in the works for the past three years and was shelved for an entire year). Is Charli XCX the next big EDM pop princess, coming to drive Nicki Minaj back to rap where she belongs?