Charli XCX Charli

[Atlantic/Asylum; 2019]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: future, future
Others: Hannah Diamond, Eartheater, Frank Ocean

You are so important to pop music, angel. You’re the one. You ask its questions in your heart; it tells you it’s OK. You believe that it understands you well, and it writes you into itself. You listen for the feeling of belonging, every voice in one room singing every other word, and it points the mic in your direction. You turn it up and obliterate yourself from the inside out, reestablishing somewhere the good in there: it’s Charli. And she’s not you. She’s literally the best pop star ever, angel, Pluto, Neptune, future —

If, like me, your faith in Charli itself wavered, you are forgiven and I hope relieved. Maybe because of the delays, I let anxiety put the anti in my anticipation, where my faulty precognition decided that Charli would be the lower non-harmony to Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel. Because it’s a proper finale to that mixtape trilogy, maybe you were afraid it wouldn’t be her vision, the way True Romance seemed only to get some of Earthquakes and Heartbreaks and Super Ultra. Maybe I worried about it because the new lead single was squeaky like platinum, despite the fact that “Blame It On Your Love” is exactly the 3D-re-release of “Track 10” I’m here for. Or that the official lack of SOPHIE meant a total reinvention, although both of them have leaked and lived and learned since VROOM VROOM gave angels wings.

That’s right, I was worried about Charli selling out, as if she doesn’t still perform global pop sensation “I Don’t Care” as an encore, where angels DON’T CARE and, in fact, LOVE IT. As if she’s any less accomplished on one stage than the other. It’s the problem with a narrativization that tracks her machinic early career as something redeemed by the novelty of her partnership with A. G. Cook and SOPHIE, the notion that her really-real-hyperreal-label-autre-anti-auteurism could be undone by a return to something more major. Charli is major, but Charli can’t not collaborate, she can’t not, “ə-ə-ə-ə-XCX.”

Inasmuch as pop music means Carly Rae Jepsen, I believe it’s supposed to save our souls and reunite us with unity, not the ecstasy of forgetting or the ecstasy of remembering, but the act of singing. She sings, “I promise I won’t let you go.” What if Charli can’t save us? Then nothing can, except for this necessary fantasy, which is the holistic and ekphrastic promise of Charli: Harmony as unison. Charli has a generous collaborative ethic, and this makes her music mutant, her features creatures, each blooming and bending the walls around them like Neo, turning a track into an exquisite corpse (weekend at Charli’s). Brand dilution realized as a party for 12, an unashamed transparency that prefigures solidarity and — being optimistic — the future of pop.

If the kayfabe of pop is identity, then Charli’s move is to render herself incomplete or obsolete. And then to cube every voice through Charli, every contributing artist inspired by each other and by herself. She meets them where they are, and they’re all so out of this world that it makes something as immediate as her “Gone” duet with Christine and The Queens conjure the call between deeps (ə-ə-ə-ə-XCX). They ask, “Why do we love?” In harmony as unity. After songwriting summits and endless features, she’s come by it honestly, a singularity of purpose. Less idle idol worship, more file-sharing. A host, the album speaks to her faith in community (and her faith in partying!).

It’s a party album, which means it’s utopian. It’s a solo album, which means it’s rebooting. “Next Level Charli” doesn’t sound like a version we’ve never heard before; it sounds like the very same, not even accelerated but integrated, at 100% synchronization rate, running up that hill, channeling the non-stop spirit of “3 Peat,” of self-confidence through self-refinement, modeling, yes, this is what it sounds like to keep going, to keep growing. That includes when you have to “put your hands up and scream,” or dance, or just drive. “Vroom Vroom,” if that outro’s Heaven was Real, was a highway, where the billboards advertise the “on and on and on and on and.” This is the suggestive power of the self-title, maybe, or the facts: now, Charli sounds more completely reunited with Charli. She begins: “I never look back” (“Next Level Charli”)… “I just wanna go back” (“1999”). Every era, every mixtape, she’s bending toward herself. It clicks: She went pop, she believes in beauty (“Beautiful”).

Beauty is bump in the rave. After watching the “Gone” video more than once, I found myself moving my body like that, you know, fully committed. Where “Click” and “Shake It” need no more than one listen to elicit goosebumps and dropped jaws and shaking and screaming, some of the featureless tracks burrow (I touch the mirror of “Silver Cross,” it goes down my throat, cold). I see the light through the window coming in with the chorus I sing in the shower (“White Mercedes”), we slow-dance in the kitchen with tears in your eyes (“Official”), and then sweat slides between our shoulders jumping up and down. I’m not listening alone, so she’s not recording alone. You’re so important to pop music.

Is it cold in the water? Are you waiting for a good time? What was once non-stop comes full-stop. When the “2099” jetski engines stop roaring, it’s a cable sign-off sine wave she rides into the SMPTE horizon, the last sound we hear belonging to a test pattern by which you can measure your color settings. Charli sets a standard, with room for input, for adjustment, for putting faith in the sum, in partnership, in yourself, in parties, in pop. Across the waves, she reaches out to her new listeners calling a familiar name, “It’s Charli/ It’s Charli, baby,” singing a Next Level perfect song: true love will find you in the end, blue and pink like the sky, the change that lasts forever and ever and

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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