April 14, 2013

Album Review: Charli XCX's True Romance

Forget Justin Timberlake or BeyoncĂ©. When it comes to who should be credited for making “pop” a not-so-dirty word in the context of today’s “indie” music tastes, that distinction goes to Robyn’s against-all-odds comeback in the mid-Aughties from the radio grave of the ‘90s and becoming the bold, chic face of uncompromising modern accessibility. The Swedish songstress' game-changing self-titled return in 2005 originally came out on her own label as a means to control her own destiny, but it was only a matter of time before its acclaim and widespread mass appeal forced major labels began to re-think the pop model in today's quickly splintering world of listeners. In effect, it resulted in a happy ending where the one-time "one hit wonder" was invited back to the fold of wider distribution for 2010's ambitiously excellent triple LP Body Talk series, and Robyn's story has now trailblazed a place for a sub-culture of pop musicians in the industry where they can worship at the alter of the radio-friendly hooks, write smart music and work with a cast of innovative producers of their choosing without the end-game always having to be a #1 iTunes hit.

Alongside Grimes, Sky Ferreria, Solange and her fellow Brits Icona Pop, 20-year-old Charlotte Atchinson a.k.a. Charli XCX has built a buzz around her pseudo-mainstream panache through social media-friendly fandom, Pitchfork adoration and baiting interest in her formal debut with a string of intriguing singles and mixtapes over the past few years. Her first full-length True Romance represents the culmination in both her ambitions and all that is right with this new breed of underground non-hit makers, in that it blinks with pretty pink and purple lights, danceable beats and toils with just the right level of glossy production we can only hope stands a chance in storming the Billboard charts.

Its track list, taking a few notes from Robyn's Body Talk series release method, includes many of the unmissable one-off download-only singles that have come to define Ms. Atchinson's black-lit electro-pop style since turning ears her way in '11. I can very well understand how wanting an album entirely made up of new material might be a bit of a let down, but based on the consistent strength of her outputs, it's an instantaneous win of an introduction for new listeners unfamiliar with the rising talent that also collects everything nearly in one spot for everyone else already in-the-know. On "Nuclear Seasons," "Stay Away" and "You're the One," red hot producers Ariel Rechtshaid and Patrick Berger respectively style Charli XCX in their own visions of heavy black eyeliner and gothy shades of black for her post-witch house look just as "What I Like," "How Can I" and the Blood Orange-helmed "Grins" toss a few glow-sticks into an abandoned factory building to reignite an excitably futuristic version of trap-rave.

Rechstshaid ultimately is the star studio player and most detectable co-writing credit on True Romance however, his synth-shaping hands appearing in 8 out of its 13 songs including the completely new standouts "Take My Hand," "Black Roses" and "Lock You Up." Each could potentially be the single that sends Charli XCX onto the mainstream radar in the same way she did for Icona Pop when penning their 2012 hit "I Love It" by rounding off the corners of '80s synth and chewing into '90s girl power with her loudest Spice Girls-flavored bubblegum smacks to date. As a whole, True Romance succeeds as a formal debut in that Charli XCX alongside her forward-thinking collective of production collaborators exhibit an understanding for reinvention as well as modern climate trends to pull off a fresh look in a highly competitive and super-saturated pop market where painfully drawing out the length of songs about relationships without offering up anything new confusingly equates to progress. There's a lot to be said about heartbreaks and new crush butterflies here on True Romance, but what separates Charli XCX from the pack is that she never loses sight on making pop fashionably fun.

Charli XCX's True Romance will be released April 16, 2013 on IAMSOUND Records.

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