Charli XCX’s “Number 1 Angel” mixtape – “Trashy, but never throwaway”

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Click here to listen to Number 1 Angel 

In another life, Charli XCX is the sixth Spice Girl. Hits like “I Love It” and “Fancy” prove her knack for bolshy ear candy, but on her new mixtape, Charli carries the torch for girl power into pop’s underbelly, and she wants you to follow.

A stopgap between 2016’s Vroom Vroom EP and a third LP due later this year, Number 1 Angel continues Charli’s work with electro avant gardists PC Music. The London label hybridise squeaky-clean IDM and 90s eurodance silliness, sharing serious chemistry with the singer’s stereo-booming hooks.

The music is almost rebellious for its glitchy hyperpop, oft-filtered vocals, and all-female features, but there are some piquant crossovers.

“3AM (Pull Up)” is cheerleader dancehall with a heartbroken twist, and prime single material. A guesting bolsters the mixtape’s feminist credentials with an affirming middle-8, prompting the song’s glorious you-go-girl attitude to snowball in the final chorus: “It’s 3AM and you are calling / Go fuck yourself, don’t say you’re sorry!”.

“Emotional” harks back to “Boom Clap” with a big, windswept topline – although producer A. G. Cook does add chop suey backing vocals in the name of experimentation.

Charli’s cohorts are a diverse lot. Up-and-comers Starrah and RAYE bring feel-good aspiration to the stonking future bass of “Dreamer”, while MySpace relic Uffie spits a bouncy MIA impression over plastic-reggae joint “Baby Girl”. CupcakKe’s ribald raps ensure “Lipgloss” is an appropriately lip-smacking tribute to cunnilingus.

The most vital union has undoubtedly been between Charli and PC Music, yet she’s inclusive, even stuttering “Do you wanna roll with me?” during one ecstatic, Aqua-on-crack assault. Across Number 1 Angel’s 35 minutes, Charli emerges as an auteur and ultimate gal pal – and really, no true 90s bitch would turn her down.

9.5/10

The PC Music movement stalls with Cashmere Cat’s “Love Incredible”

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“Love Incredible” isn’t just a drum roll for Fifth Harmony dropout Camila Cabello’s solo launch. It’s a big moment too for co-producer SOPHIE of PC Music – the London record label and EDM subgenre hoping to turn hipster hype into mainstream success.

Were an algorithm set to merge popular vocal tics into one bankable voice, Cabello’s soprano might be the end result. Even live, she sounds reedy, processed, and very 2017, making her a canny match for SOPHIE’s wry, bug-eyed hyperpop.

Adrift in Cashmere Cat’s monochrome alt-R&B, Cabello unravels the swooning hooks and big-ish chorus with ease. A strange, yawning outro hints at PC Music’s novel aesthetic, but it’s a fleeting concession to the blogosphere on an otherwise trendy single.

Ed Sheeran – Divide: “Listless balladry and boundless opportunism”

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If only Ed Sheeran could produce an album that split opinion. Despite commercial success being a given for the Suffolk-raised singer’s third LP, the erroneously-titled Divide is about as edgy as a sausage roll.

The pandering doesn’t even end with a base-covering single campaign that made a smart play for Radio 1 (catchy “Cheap Thrills” knock-off “Shape of You”) and 2 (“Castle On The Hill”). Divide isn’t afraid to exploit cultural generalisations in order to connect.

Opener “Eraser” is a self-pitying take on drinking like a twenty-something. Here and elsewhere, Ed romanticises his humility. He’s a Grammy-winning everyman “without a nine-to-five job or a uni degree”, singing to millions in “the same old jeans”. It’s pure department store fodder, so perhaps a fan will pick him up a pair.

Even worse is “Galway Girl”, combining flavourless Irish trad and noughties boyband melodies to soundtrack a one night stand with a fiery Celtic waif. Any pop chorus beginning with “She played the fiddle in an Irish band” should by right lead to a filthy couplet about handjobs, but Ed shows no ambition beyond reaping marketing royalties from Ireland’s tourism board.

Banality is occasionally swapped for bitterness, as on the unlikely highlight “New Man”. Underneath the slick acoustic-pop is a mean-spirited sketch of an ex’s metrosexual lover, right down to his plucked eyebrows and bleached arsehole. Ed’s observations border on bigotry, but hey, at least it’s interesting, right?

A wet mass of listless balladry and boundless opportunism, Divide shirks any duty to say something new, and will no doubt achieve homeric sales throughout the year. When Britain’s biggest popstar sings “Love can change the world, but what do I know?”, the modesty is hard to stomach. Ed Sheeran knows exactly what he’s doing.

03/10

Lorde is all go on “Green Light”

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Feels so scary getting old…Lorde sang on her artfully blasé 2012 debut Pure Heroine. She was 16 then, but life doesn’t sound any easier on new single “Green Light”.

The titular metaphor refers to the moment one feels freed from a bad breakup. In a hushed yet haughty preamble, Lorde taunts an unfaithful ex with flat, self-indulgent barbs: “She thinks you love the beach, you’re such a damn liar.

When flapping synths circle Lorde’s voice, the song finally bottles the brooding, youthful valour that made her a household name, only to pour it over a delicate house-piano riff.

Troubled thoughts stack up, even as “Green Light” flings itself into skirt-twirling euphoria. Lorde’s assiduous phrasing isn’t a natural fit for house music, but every bellow of “I wish I could get my things, and just let go” casts a long, upsetting shadow.

A last-minute surge of handclaps, scuzzy guitar, and reverb-drenched chants make this an ideal progression from Pure Heroine’s electro-chamber pop. Anyone older than Lorde knows adulthood isn’t that scary, but for now, her growing pains are our gain.

The good fight continues on Run The Jewels 3

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Fucking fascists –
Who the fuck are you to give fifty lashes?

2016’s conceptually bold, socially aware releases weren’t just embraced by the mainstream – they set a precedent for any artist looking to maximise their platform. Run The Jewels’ latest might seem like another silver lining in a torrid political climate, but it’s really just business as usual for the hip-hop supergroup.

Since the first instalment in their self-titled trilogy in 2014, El-P and Killer Mike have been harbingers of revolution. Both are exceptional rappers with strong principles, touching on everything from drug wars to Black Lives Matter to reciprocal oral sex. In the wake of last year’s U.S election, their fight against oppression continues on RTJ3.

The duo’s music still sounds huge and extraterrestrial. It verges on intimidating, but there’s a lot of colour, and El-P’s beats are proud in their artificiality. On “Call Ticketron”, synths wriggle wildly, culminating in a sudden rave-y finale. “Panther Like A Panther” is a luminous fusion of trap and breakbeat textures.

A slow and sweet opener, “Down” reflects on a troubled past, and insists perseverance is the only option in surprisingly gentle terms. The skulking “Thieves (Screamed the Ghost)” is more resigned, with a tormented El-P begging for a night’s reprieve from the world’s injustices: “Some get to count sheep, some gotta count kids that they burying”.

Songs don’t come more charged than “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” – using a Congolese expression meaning “Kill him” to incite an uprising against influential business moguls – but RTJ3 is hardly inaccessible. “Stay Gold” wields a fun, spelt-out hook, digressing from politics entirely to paint a portrait of a relationship that’s dripping in gratitude. 

10/10

Katy Perry is wide awake on “Chained to the Rhythm”

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“Chained to the Rhythm” is the closest Katy Perry has come to a political statement. Over an italo-disco groove reminiscent of Carly Simon’s “Why”, the singer both condones and condemns a generation adept at blocking out the world’s woes.

Producer Max Martin doesn’t budge from his power-pop formula, swaddling Perry’s epiphanies in pastel synths and slippery bass. At times it even works as a snarky endorsement of cheap escapism (“Put your rose-coloured glasses on, and party on”).

The chorus is wordy and elastic, ending on a clunky hook that betrays Sia’s co-writing credit. Perry’s moral awakening is perhaps best summed up by Skip Marley (grandson of Bob) in a rousing and hopeful verse: “We’re about to riot / they woke up the lions!