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New Music: Charli XCX

By Matthew Herring, October 4 2019 —

Through the early years of her career, Charli Aitchison — better known as Charli XCX — had always possessed a sense of maturity masked behind bubblegum instrumentation and seemingly carefree lyricism. This era came to a sudden end in early 2016 when Aitchison spontaneously released her wildly experimental EP Vroom Vroom, substituting her bubblegum aesthetic with heavy industrial bass and unrecognizably distorted vocals. Paired with boundary-pushing pop producer SOPHIE, Vroom Vroom marked a clear shift in Aitchison’s career. No longer was she the sweet, young-adult writing music for the soundtrack of The Fault In Our Stars. She had a vision that she wanted to share with the world, and despite the risk that ensued by releasing music so foreign to her previous works — she persisted. 

However, Aitchison’s stubbornness to stick to expectations lead her to trouble with her record label, Asylum Records. Fearful of a negative reception to her new sound, Asylum pushed back the release of Aitchison’s third studio album. In wanting to prove the artistic and commercial merit of her work, she released two mixtapes throughout the span of 2017 with little monetary backing from her label. After these projects gained traction and amassed a large cult following, Asylum was finally ready to put Aitchison back in the spotlight and release her long awaited third studio album.

Finally, after three excruciating years of anticipation, Charli was released to the public. On first impression it comes off as abrasive and egotistical to name the album after herself, but upon first listen it becomes apparent that this is the first time the real Charli XCX has ever taken the spotlight. Packed within the record is a culmination of everything that made her previous works great, amplified by brilliant songwriting and masterful production by A.G. Cook — yet another boundary-breaking producer and fellow pop weirdo.

Because of the stylistic choices made by Aitchison and Cook, Charli is undoubtedly exciting. From the speeding synths on the opening track “Next Level Charli” , it’s apparent that Aitchison has no fear of releasing off-the-wall pop bangers. This sentiment is continued through the monumental “Gone” featuring Christine and the Queens. It’s rowdy, wild, unrelenting and, most importantly, honest and revealing. Every aspect of Charli provides a new revelation into the previously untouched life of Aitchison, transforming her from a futuristic pop diva to a vulnerable woman trying to understand the world around her and how she fits into it.

The exquisite songwriting and vulnerable nature of the album makes the simplest songs on Charli both engaging and emotional. The more straightforward tracks on the album such as “I Don’t Wanna Know” or “White Mercedes” are made impactful by Aitchison’s willingness to address what’s plaguing her mind. The song structure may be basic, but the feelings and courage that went into them are anything but. 

Charli is monumental not only from a musical standpoint, but also from a personal one. Every sound feels deliberate, and lurking behind the lavish and fun production lies fragments of a story of heartbreak, anxiety and glimpses of happiness waiting to be unraveled. Through the blaring synths, overpowering bass and freaky vocal distortions lies one of the most beautiful albums of the year. 

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