Charli XCX and the Quest for the #songofthesummer

Posted on May 17, 2013

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ImageEach year, when Spring begins to creep in, a couple friends and I like to speculate as to what new song has a shot of becoming the Song of the Summer. Sometimes it’s a dark horse candidate, some unlikely number we boldly believe deserves it; other times it’s a no-brainer. Around this time last year, I thought I was presenting the underdog when I claimed that a bratty little four-to-the-floor track called “I Love It,” from an unknown Swedish duo named Icona Pop, was the one. But it soon started showing up everywhere, its guitar intro revving like a vintage motorbike at a stoplight. The women of Icona Pop, neither singers nor musicians, chant-screamed an approximate melody in unison, describing the euphoria that can only come from freeing yourself from the clutches of a boring lover. It made me and everyone I know feel like a ’90s bitch. It was the Song of the Summer.

That brilliant song was written and gifted to Icona Pop by 20-year-old English Goth-Glam queen Charli XCX, whose own debut LP, True Romance, was released on April 16th. There may not be a shout-along gem like “I Love It” on the record, but that doesn’t seem to be what she’s going for here. What’s most apparent is that the young woman knows her way around a melody. There are hooks on top of hooks all over this album, starting with lead track “Nuclear Seasons,” a master class in catchy. Though the beats on this and several other tracks aren’t exactly mind-blowing stuff, mostly mid-tempo synth jungle, underneath Charli’s various dazzling vocal lines, the shtick works.

Charli XCX may be a limited vocalist, but she knows how to work around them better than most any subpar pop singer around. Chorus effects, tasteful Auto-Tune, soothing spoken word and shimmering harmonies abound. Let me be clear; there are risky, calculated vocal decisions all over this album, and almost all of them are sound. Songs like “Stay Away” and “You – Ha Ha Ha” keep it simple and effective, relying on repeat visits to empowering, mantra-like choruses, while the infectious “So Far Away” is more ambitious. A bonkers, high-pitched arpeggiator loop carries the song along as Charli switches from punchy, staccato singing to lazy, Lily-Allen-on-pot-brownies rapping. The chorus, a buzzy, sampled male vocal repeating the track’s title, has stayed in my head for days.

True Romance does suffer a bit from Charli’s unwillingness to throw out the bad eggs. The album is comprised of thirteen tracks and runs about nine minutes too long. May I suggest skipping “Black Roses” and “How Can I,” numbing songs that go nowhere, and “Cloud Aura,” a perfectly fine chorus ruined by a guest appearance from hack rapper Brooke Candy. Problem solved.

A few days ago, I tweeted a video to my #songofthesummer buddies announcing the arrival of “What I Like,” the album’s absolute high point. It’s an ode to straight chillin’, sitting around in the nude and smoking whatever’s around. What’s not to like? Summer is so close, and I can hear its BBQs and pool parties in this melody. My friends largely agreed with my choice, another dark horse candidate. They know I’m pretty good at the game, sure, but more importantly, they now know not to count out Charli XCX, reigning Goth Queen of the Summer.

Featured in The Michigan Daily, 4/17/13

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Posted in: New Music