Avocado Music Club #82: Charli XCX – Pop 2

Welcome to the Avocado Music Club, each week a new album will be discussed based on a massive pile of suggestions made by ourselves. Listen to new music or revisit an old favorite and discuss anything you wish related to the album with other lovers of music. These are different than Album Spotlights which are great and people put a lot of effort into, don’t let these discussions impede writing your own. This week’s album:

Charli XCX – Pop 2

Doing something a little different this time, I wanted to actually put some real words to this album because I love the album. I don’t really love writing, and find it impossible to write critically about music I know this well so… I didn’t really! Here’s just some thoughts, be nice to me:

Going in to the end of 2017, before Pop 2 came out, I wouldn’t have believed that three years later Charli XCX would emerge as one of my favorite and most listened to musicians. Her debut True Romance, is great dark indie-pop and I was a huge fan of it early on. Her second album though, Sucker, is a strange pivot into trying to fit cartoonish pop-punk into cartoonish hyperpop. It was a huge whiff then and is still more interesting than it ever is good. This is also around when Charli seems to break through, and unfortunately, it’s singing the hook on Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” (which, to be honest she sells the shit out of that song). Sucker would be her last official album until 2019’s Charli, a kind of homecoming event for her.

In between those albums Charli hooked up with the experimental pop collective PC Music. I’m sure Bresson will have more to say about them than I could, so I’ll defer to him. But, led by AG Cook, their interests in pop music was turning it into a cartoon. Pushing it into a caricature of itself while embracing harsh noise. A lot of it is truly obnoxious and abrasive, too ironic, too clever. But with Charli, an actual pop star and writer, together they could try and find the middle ground. Their first official release was the Vroom Vroom EP, something at the time I just could not get into. It feels essential now, but for me then it was a swing too far. After that is Number 1 Angel, the first mixtape of 2017 that acts as sort of part one for Pop 2. That album is also full of swings, a lot of them work great, some of them don’t. I’ve come to love almost all of it now, but at the time I was pretty checked out of where she was going.

So, come December I wasn’t exactly excited for Pop 2, outside of needing to hear one feature in particular. I don’t remember if it grabbed me right away but it definitely did very quickly. Pop 2 is half tongue in cheek, half reality. Charli XCX and PC Music put their interests together, gathered their friends, had everyone bring their A-games and present to us the sequel to pop music. The album is presented as another mixtape, a way to take the pressure off what’s considered an album and as an excuse to further embrace collaboration.

There’s a long list of artists that stop by on this album, mostly from the alternative pop scene, but the album kicks off with it’s most fitting: the queen of the underdogs herself, Carly Rae Jepsen. I’ve known ‘Backseat’ now for three years and it still feels like a small miracle. Charli’s voice comes in first, processed to sound slightly robotic and cold. The song too is cold and a little metallic sounding. But then Carly Rae’s warm voice comes in on the second half and suddenly it all clicks in and the album really begins. Their voices meet in the bridge, blurring and often indistinguishable from one another while the song blasts away. The sound of the drums stuttering while both of their voices turn to soup and a squeaky synth scrapes as high as it can go is one of my favorite things.

Their voices meeting together at the end of “Backseat” happens often on the album itself. Not in the same dramatic way, but, there are times when it’s genuinely hard to tell who is performing. I think it’s intentional most times. Charli as both a songwriter and a fan of her collaborators can very often disappear a bit as a lead, or swallow them. It might seem stupid to fill your album with unique voices and then echo them back at them, but hey, who cares these songs rule. I’d be curious for those who don’t know the albums if it was easy to know who was performing when. Especially on ‘Unlock It’, a song I’ve listened to probably a hundred times but couldn’t easily tell you where Kim Petras is.

The other star of the album is the closer, ‘Track 10’, one of the few songs featuring just Charli. I think this song is maybe the best summation of what PC Music and Charli seem to be chasing. It’s Charli’s loneliest, heartbreak song on the album and she sells the shit out of it while occasionally sounding like a fax machine. The music constantly shifts underneath her, from completely sparse verses to maxed out drums beating. Her voice looping back at her. It sounds alien and distant while somehow very warm and human.

‘Tears’ is another song I sometimes have trouble keeping the voices straight, and another overall highlight of the mixtape. This one features Caroline Polachek, who had ended her indie-pop band Chairlift not long before. She’d later go on to release a PC Music assisted solo album herself. The chorus of this song gets stuck in my head constantly, and the way it’s underscored by the last note of the pre chorus held like a scream sounds great to me.

‘I Got It’ is a classic posse cut song, with Charli taking a verse and sharing the chorus with the next guest. Brooke Candy starts it off, it’s fine enough and it washes out the taste of her feature way back on True Romance (‘Cloud Aura’, a contender for one of the worst Charli songs), and she sticks around to announce the songs star: Cupcakke. Cupcakke is insane. She’s nasty, funny and genuinely great at what she does. On Number 1 Angel she completely steals the whole album and she comes close again here. The second half of her verse is just magic, the low end maxes out and there’s a voice vibrating below her. It’s dark and menacing and great. Pabllo Vittar, a massively popular Brazilian drag queen, closes it out with a verse in Portuguese.

‘Delicious’ is the last song I want to put some words to. This is probably the song that I warmed up to the slowest, the Tommy Cash verse only being interesting at first because it’s cut off by a ringing phone (Charli’s hit ‘Boom Clap’). But over time I’ve really come to appreciate that Charli is performing the absolute shit out of this song, and the slow verse stuck in the middle of it really sells the two parts around it even more so. There are times when Charli sounds like she’s just yelling, her usual cool completely gone. It’s a great moment.

There’s a ton more to love on this: I haven’t said a thing about ‘Porsche’ being insanely earwormy, Mykki Blanco’s verse on ‘Femmebot’ (“Hard drive crash, you don’t remember, Charli bit your wittle finger”), or anything about how fun ‘Out of My Head’ is.

Overall, this is the album that really made me fall in love with Charli XCX. Somewhere between being a fan and jokingly a stan. It sounds inventive, weird, abrasive, warm, loving all at once. It’s a big sad party and we all get to be invited for its emotional highs and lows.

So, come talk about this album. Is it great/good/bad? Does it mean anything? Favorite parts/lyrics? How does it hold up? What are its influences? Has it influenced anything? How does it compare with the rest of the year’s music? Talk about anything, even if it’s (politely) negative, have fun!

Next Week: Nubya Garcia – Source