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

[Music] Craving Soup at a Warhol Exhibit: Britney Spears’ “Pretty Girls” VS PC Music

britney-spears-iggy-azalea-pretty-girls-2015-billboard-650-promoPretty Girls” has been born into what may prove to be an ideal climate. This is not merely in reference to Britney Spears’ apparent appeal for a summer hit; although the presence of Iggy Azalea and a sticky, “Fancy”-mimicking beat are perhaps enough to account for whatever vitriol may be levelled by detractors of the single, the first to be lifted from Spear’s upcoming album.

Instead, one may take interest in the fact that Spears’ return coincides with A.G. Cook’s ambitions to proliferate both the sound and philosophy of his London-based label PC Music. This month sees the UK releases of what could be viewed as two integral pillars in Cook’s musical colosseum: PC Music Vol. 1, the label’s first official compilation, and the single “Hey QT”, an electro-europop earworm that works as both a parody and celebration of the often shallow nature of mainstream music.

Cook and his collaborators and protégées are receiving praise for applying a thick gloss of irony to pop music’s inherent immediacy. At the core of “Hey QT” is an infectious Aqua-esque melody, one that could have easily been tamed into a legitimate, chart-ready anthem. But the focus is instead on the individual cogs that keep the engine of an effective tune chugging along. As a result, “Hey QT” boasts few layers; the drizzles of crisp synth evaporate on impact, while the decidedly artificial treatment of QT’s (AKA Quinn Thomas, as portrayed by performance artist Hayden Dunham) vocal is a clear nod to artists of Spears’ questionably talented ilk.

These are hallmarks of PC Music’s output, however, and the QT project is certainly witty in its promotion of the titular star as both a pop music siren and a refreshing energy elixir – two essential ingredients for a transcendent dancefloor experience. But it is also rather galling that Spears’ “Pretty Girls” seems destined to be criticised for being built on the same foundations that “Hey QT” coldly sifts through to rapturous applause.

“Pretty Girls” mocks the male gaze (“Is it true all these men are from Mars? / Is that why they be acting bizarre?”) and salutes female vanity in the vaguest possible terms; lyrically, at least, the track never backs its headliners into a corner of self-objectification, and this novel air of innocence is somewhat striking.

But with such an unnerving distinction between Spears’ digital detachment and Azalea’s comparable lucidity, their collaboration is almost a parody in itself. As the designated driver tasked with bringing Spears’ drunken cyber-chipmunk home safely, Azalea emerges as the track’s MVP by default. Her brief but confident verse even harks back to Spears’ own heyday with a tip of the hat to “… Baby One More Time”. While the reference does serve to commemorate the singer’s seventeen-year long career, it also highlights her regression as an imposing presence on her own work; with every yelp of “We’re just so prett-EH!”, Spears’ once inimitably nasal purr is stretched and smooshed into the mix in order to emulate the brassy Brit snarl of Azalea’s “Fancy” co-conspirator Charli XCX.

While one can appreciate the respective merits of “Hey QT” and “Pretty Girls”, we feel compelled to honour the track most purposefully built to entertain. In addition to possessing a smattering of hooks and beefy production from The Invisible Men, the components of Spears’ new single can be delineated and fitted around PC Music’s pseudo-cynical agenda. Like a soup kitchen adjacent to a Warhol exhibit, “Pretty Girls” feeds both the very human needs to observe and participate. RG

[Music] Charli XCX – Sucker (review)

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Available to buy on iTunes

Review: Giving frothy, guitar-driven power pop a semi-ironic squeeze without choking the fun out of it is 22 year-old Charlotte Aitchison, AKA Charli XCX. Sucker is her second studio album – unless you count 2008’s barely self-released debut 14, but then why would you? – and the glee with which it swaps the moody electro-fuzz of 2013’s True Romance for a raucous riot grrrl flavour is worth the price of admission alone.

Bursting out of the gate with a barrage of girly whoops, infectious new wave synths and a shriek of “Fuck you, Suckerrr!”, the title track seems to be swiped straight from the soundtrack of a late 90’s Columbia TriStar teen flick. Perhaps such connotations are unavoidable considering it was in the guise of Britney Murphy’s Clueless character that Charli was introduced to the majority of listeners alongside Iggy Azalea in the video for their ubiquitous 2014 hit “Fancy”, but if Sucker aims to convey anything other than giddy, juvenile thrills, it certainly does not show.

Even “London Queen” – which is easily the weakest track here, clocking in at under three minutes and yet still blighted by nauseating repetition – cannot help but raise a smile thanks to the unmitigated delight Charli displays at her newfound prosperity: “I never thought I’d be living in the USA / Doing things the American way […] Living the dream like a London Queen”. Fame and fortune are recurring themes, but this particular starlet isn’t one to sing at you from behind the velvet rope; “Gold Coins” and “Hanging Around” invite us to dream big, while “Famous”, with its shimmy-friendly guitar licks, treats fame as merely a state of mind: “One night, we’re gonna come and crash the party / Weren’t invited but we’re feeling so outrageous / Just like we’re famous”. It’s the way Charli tows the line between an awestruck sense of pride in her own achievements and the BFF-quality encouragement her lyrics offer that makes her the listener’s ever-reliable seatbelt on Sucker‘s musical rollercoaster.

The songwriting is extraordinarily hook-focused, but never cynical. “Boom Clap”, the dreamy party favour “Doing It” (featuring Rita Ora, who usually represents the kind of faceless chart fodder Charli rages against, but here gives the track some necessary zip) and the sweet 60’s girl group pastiche “Need Ur Love” offer reprieve from the catchy noise-pop, although these comparatively subtle moments probably won’t satiate those accusing Charli of selling out. She has been frank about her desire to appeal to young girls, and perhaps the thought of even a fraction of them growing up with a snarly ode to female agency like “Body Of My Own” on their iPods is all the credibility a project as unapologetically fun as Sucker could ever ask for.

9.0/10

[Music] Top Tracks of 2014, Part Two (#30 – #16)

Part One:

#20 – #11 // #10 – #1

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Thanks in no small part to Beyoncé’s still-legendary surprise album drop last December, music lovers spent most of 2014 in anticipation for a similarly strategised blockbuster release that never really came. U2 were brave to test the novel idea of occupying your digital library pretty much by force; the reactions were mixed, with some Apple users describing the move as a violation, although we can only hope the subsequent iCloud-hacking scandal helped put things into perspective for them.

Despite the vaguest hint of a popstar working on new material sparking a raft of paranoid articles detailing an imminent midnight release, Beyoncé’s influence reaches beyond this palpitation-inducing phenomenon. The success of her self-titled record seems to have coaxed labels away from archaically prolonged release dates and woken them up to the lucrative realities of the instant gratification sought after by the internet generation. For this we are grateful, as it was such spontaneity that allowed a strong portion of our Top 30 to fall into our laps. And of course we extend our thanks to you, the music-buying public, for demonstrating the demand necessary for a competitive and stimulating industry. Happy New Year.

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30. Charli XCX – Boom Clap, Sucker

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Available to buy on iTunes

After owning the airwaves this summer with her inescapable Iggy Azalea collaboration “Fancy” – following on from her work on Icona Pop’s 2013 smash “I Love It” – Charli XCX bagged herself a well-deserved solo hit with “Boom Clap”, an old-fashioned power pop love song that’s as warm and light as cappuccino foam. Thank heavens Hilary Duff’s team turned it down; whatever heft “Boom Clap” has comes courtesy of Charli’s smoky Cambridge intonations and punk spirit.

See also:Breaking Up 

29. Mariah Carey – You Don’t Know What To Do [feat. Wale], Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse

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Available to buy on iTunes

Smothered within the often soporific mood of Mariah Carey’s latest album, the piano-led intro to “You Don’t Know What To Do” initially sparks fears of more mid-tempo mediocrity. Thankfully, it’s a sonic red-herring; a quick tribute to Gloria Gaynor’s infamous “At first I was afraid, I was petrified…” before launching into a sassy, disco-infused strut.

See also:#Beautiful” [feat. Miguel]

28. Game – Or Nah [feat. Too $hort, Problem, AV & Eric Bellinger], Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf

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Available to buy on iTunes

Chart-chasing pop-rap tracks don’t get any more shameless than “Or Nah”, a Frankenstein’s monster of a jam that stitches catchy but disparate parts – spoken word come-ons (“You gon’ let me hit it, or nah?”), Eric Bellinger’s Usher circa 2005-aping chorus – to the same sticky synths that made Iggy’s “Fancy” so addictive. Game turns in a fun verse (“Tell her hop in my bed, tell her hop off my roof / My baby mama trippin’, and that bitch can shoot”), and while healthy use of the B-word may be off-putting to the some, props to the boys for literally giving the modern, sexually-assured woman a voice on that hilariously blunt pre-chorus.

See also: “The Purge (Year of the Wolf)

27. Lana Del Rey – West Coast, Ultraviolence

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Available to buy on iTunes

The hypnotic “West Coast” reroutes Lana Del Rey’s trademark idealisation of volatile love affairs from the glamour of 1960s Hollywood to a 1990s San Francisco crack den. The scuzzy, psychedelic production fits Del Rey’s new whisky-bathed voice as well as the string-heavy, hermetically-sealed stylings of her debut, particularly whenever the chorus’s bracing shift in tempo kicks in.

See also: “Ultraviolence

26. Ergo Phizmiz – Consequences, The Peacock

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Available to buy on iTunes

Although his name may very well have been generated on a website frequented by wannabe rappers, Ergo Phizmiz is not an up-and-coming hip-hop sensation but a maddeningly prolific purveyor of eccentric chamber pop. The lively “Consequences” blends his gentleman drawl with gloriously nonsensical lyrics and a musty organ shuffle, like your favourite Divine Comedy number with a Britpop swing.

See also: Open Artery Surgery

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[Music] Top 20 Tracks of 2014, Part One (#20 – 11)

No musical trend in recent memory has maintained its credibility quite as strongly as the house resurgence. In it’s purest form, the sparse but meticulously built beats affiliated with the genre are putty in the hands of a capable songwriter. Repetition is a hallmark, but so is solidity; with a serviceable melody locked down, certain artists thrive in their adventures with the blank canvas, an honest musical space that leaves orthodox themes (love, sex, heartbreak, repeat) ugly and exposed. This inherent pluckiness means that even the most chart-chomping house cut can find some love from the alt-music blogosphere, if not for its emotional resonance, then for a semi-ironic admiration of it’s 90’s credentials.

The house movement has been something of a trojan horse in the UK, ushering a host of homegrown talents – MNEK, Duke Dumont, Clean Bandit – into the Top 40, as well as allowing comparably exotic acts – Kiesza, Faul & Wad Ad – to be welcomed with open arms (Take that, UKIP). Our list reflects this popularity, but also bridges the gap between radio-friendly hits and Pitchfork-approved gems. Also on our radar this year are talent show also-rans, a Cuban sex-pest and a smattering of “conscious uncouplings”.

Enjoy.

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20. Pitbull – Timber [feat. Ke$ha], TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

The unlikely union of country music and dance arrived last year in the form of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, but that was a rather stony-faced foundation for what should have been an unashamedly tacky subgenre.

Enter mediocre rapper Pitbull, LOL-pop refugee Ke$ha, and a tangy, harmonica-led instrumental. “Timber” is purpose-built for dance floor domination; Mr. Worldwide’s verses are mercifully brief, serving as clumsy foreplay for the song’s infectious hook and riotous breakdown. He isn’t a complete spare part, however: that pre-chorus is what sweaty, late hour nightclub-based dreams are made of.

See also: “Wild Wild Love” [feat. GRL], “Wake Me Up” / “Hey Brother” by Avicii

19. Le Youth – Dance With Me [feat. Dominique Young Unique], TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

On his second single, L.A.-based DJ Le Youth eschews the sumptuous ebb and flow of his Cassie-sampling breakthrough hit “C O O L”, instead turning in a relentlessly funky jam built on curt snippets from TLC’s iconic “No Scrubs”. Jubilant house piano stabs and a spongy bassline negate Dominique Young Unique’s limp rap.

See also: Le Youth’s excellent Fixtape, “Falling Scrubs” (TLC vs. Haim – Carlos Serrano Mash-Up)

18. MNEK – Every Little Word, TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

Considering the current ubiquity of the genre, rising British star Uzoechi Osisioma Emenike (A.K.A MNEK) took a gamble in not following up his Gorgon City collaboration “Ready For Your Love” with another sleek house-inspired gem. “Every Little Word” is arguably just as sweet in its content, but frames MNEK’s soulful voice with confrontational production tricks. Drums pound, basslines wobble comically, and a randy Darth Vader asks repeatedly if we “fuck to this sh*t”.

No judgment if you do.

See also: Ready for Your Love, Baby”  by Rudimental [feat. MNEK & Sinead Harnett]

17. Faul & Wad Ad VS. Pnau – Changes, Changes E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes

With a whirling saxophone, euphoric synths and a children’s choir (lifted from Pnau’s frankly creepy 2007 single “Baby”) all vying for your attention over the course of six minutes, it’s a miracle this debut effort from French producers Faul & Wad Ad isn’t a convoluted mess. The duo take care to ensure the separate elements all get a chance to shine, but it’s that sax-lad denouement that lends “Changes” its earthy beauty.

See also: Changes” (Bontan Remix)

16. Kiesza – Hideaway, TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

This ridiculously assured debut from Canadian pop ingénue Kiesza hit the UK No. 1 spot in April, although punters were perhaps so entranced by the transcendent deep-house cut’s one-take, choreography-heavy video that they failed to notice a crucial lack of identity between the strong verses and understated breakdown.

As much she feels like a guest vocalist on her own track, Kiesza still has the makings of a top tier popstar.

See also: What Is Love

15. St. Vincent – Digital Witness, St. Vincent

St-Vincent

Available to buy on iTunes

Critics bemoaned the lack of Anne “St. Vincent” Clark’s signature riffing on her latest self-titled record, but the glossy, pseudo-psychedelic saunter of “Digital Witness” is all the better for it, instead leaving the heavy-lifting to a rubbery horn section and stonking bass.

A scathing treatise on social media, Clark asks “If you can’t see me / What’s the point of doing anything?” – skewering our if-a-tree-falls-in-a-forest approach to what were once life’s simple pleasures.

See also: Birth In Reverse”, “Prince Johnny

14. Ariana Grande – Problem [feat. Iggy Azalea], TBA

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Available to buy on iTunes

An underfed chorus mars this otherwise brilliant slice of summery hip-hop-pop, courtesy of perennial hit-maker Max Martin (Britney Spears, Katy Perry). Nickelodeon star Grande has been on our radars since last year’s “The Way” positioned her as the new Mariah Carey, but “Problem” ushers the twenty year old into more club-friendly territory.

Her sugary but powerful voice contrasts nicely with the track’s thumping beat and post-“Thrift Shop” saxophone breakdown, but it’s rapper Iggy Azalea who really impresses, putting tired assertions of her “swag” aside for a moment to deliver an attitude-packed verse.

See also:The Way”, “Wait (The Whisper Song)” by Ying Yang Twins, “Fancy” by Iggy Azalea [feat. Charli xcx]

13. Shift K3Y – Touch, Touch E.P.

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Available to buy on iTunes

There’s a whiff of Craig David’s early noughties forays into garage on “Touch”, thanks in part to Shift K3Y’s (nee Lewis Jankel) soft, nasally timbre. The italo disco-flavoured production is surprisingly minimalist, although the track whirls by at such a pace that mistaking it for a kitchen-sink affair would be forgivable.

See also: Make It Good, Keep Your Mouth Shut (Things That We Do)” [feat. Griminal]

12. Soft Lit – Ocean King, GODMODE: Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep Us Together

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Available to buy from Godmode’s online store 

New York-based roommates-turned-musical duo Tyler McCauley and visual artist Tara Chacon meld R&B-friendly melodies with airy, organic production on “Ocean King”, one of the many highlights from Godmode’s excellent label showcase compilation Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep Us Together.

McCauley contrasts almost-murmured verses with dark, fizzing synths and rattling drum machines come the chorus, with Chacon’s Kate Bush-style harmonies selling a dramatic tale of a love gone sour.

See also: Lately

11. Shakira – Empire, Shakira

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Available to buy from iTunes

Blank out all memories of the underwhelming Rihanna duet “Can’t Remember to Forget You”; pop’s ultimate bohemian streamlined her baroque musical style into an Alanis Morissette-esque piano ballad-cum-rock number that only she could pull off, complete with distorted stadium-sized howls.

See also: Chasing Shadows“, “Cut Me Deep” [feat. Magic!]

Continued – Tracks #10 – #1