Charli XCX has continued to evolve, she’s cast her net wide. She’s gone through several phases, beginning with downbeat, bubblegum pop debut, True Romance. It was and still is a fine pop record. The album has aged well, which is testament to her taste. Its sound was ahead of its time and her vocals were fresh and distinctive. True Romance was a full throttled introduction to the industry and what an introduction it was.
After some time, Sucker was born, a result of anger and continued frustration towards the industry. It was volatile, far edgier, fuelled with bite and venom. Charli’s new approach was punk in essence, which was met with mixed results. Following that era, we’ve ended up at XCX’s current embodiment of pop.
She released the Vroom Vroom EP, an eccentric display of her new sound. Building on her momentum, the hit single, “After The Afterparty”, was released. From those two releases, it’s evident that Charli XCX has embraced the growing wave of PC Music.
PC Music is being pushed by a group of extremely talented producers, featuring the likes of SOPHIE, Danny L Harle and A.G Cook to name a few. Charli’s new sound is what she’s most comfortable with and undoubtedly best at: delivering flashy, eerie, sugar-tastic bangers. While we wait for her new album, she’s kindly dropped a mixtape, titled Number 1 Angel, a taster of what’s to come.
I was hesitant but excited for this project, as I wasn’t completely sold on the execution of Vroom Vroom. However, after several listens of Number 1 Angel, it’s clear she’s mastered this sound, moulding it around her artistry. It’s undoubtedly Charli XCX both in content and spirit.
It’s tongue in cheek, sexy and more importantly, fun. The mixtape bangs from front to back and even the slower paced tracks have crazy instrumentals. They’re dense and luscious, combined with Charli’s smooth vocals, it comes together to create an ethereal experience.
Number 1 Angel isn’t to be taken seriously, it isn’t deep and it isn’t trying to be. This is pure unadulterated 21st century fun with some heart thrown in for good measure. It’s apparent from the opening track, “Dreamer”, featuring Starrah, and the lady of the moment, Raye.
Its instrumental is massive, backboned by booming bass, ghostly synths and trap-inspired claps. “Dreamer” is a definitive trap-pop anthem, with both Starrah and Raye flowing seamlessly, offering enough coolness to freeze Hell over.
As the instrumental buzzes and gargles, the lyrical content sprinkles a dose creativity, feeding the listeners imagination just enough. Although the main focus is the relationship between the vocals and instrumental, they’re what makes the track special.
That’s very much the core of the mixtape, the sound and how excellent it is. The reason why Charli can get away with a more relaxed vocal and lyrical approach is because she has vast bombastic sounds and melodies to boost. The instrumentals lead the way and the vocals pump alongside.
Charli XCX’s charisma creates the perfect party vibe, she’s the perfect pop star in that sense. She knows her craft, and she knows what works in getting the listener sucked in. By the end of the mixtape, you’ll be dancing and most importantly, partying.
The mixtape’s first three songs are ice-cold, laid-back anthems that revolve around low-key verses and big choruses alongside climactic endings. “Blame It On You” is a perfect example of the juxtaposition between the glassy instrumental and spasming electronics.
The blistering combination of synths and drums, conjures an electronic storm that explodes into a flurry of warped vocals and shifting soundscapes. Its ending leads the shift to Number 1 Angel’s dose of upbeat, faster pop. “Roll With Me” is pop music’s equivalent to a manic episode. It’s brain-melting. The bass drops at the end of the track are seismic, ricocheting beneath the sea of vocals.
Charli then shifts gears again, with a softer, amped up ballad, “Emotional”. “Emotional” showcases lyrical focus upon an ominous backdrop. Her vocals are sombre and moving, emanating True Romance‘s sound. “Ily2” follows a similar pattern, featuring a simplistic yet fantastic chorus, it’s pure pop brilliance.
Number 1 Angel goes through three phases, beginning with moodier, hip-hop influenced pop. The middle is her quirky side, the new brand of XCX and the ending is a culmination of all three phases meshing together. Each song slaps, bangs and crashes. Even the weakest track, “Babygirl”, still has some redeeming qualities. If one thing is for certain Number 1 Angel is a wild ride.
Despite the mixtape being an all-round pop tour de force, the features are a bit disappointing. They don’t really add or take away from the listening experience, they just exist. Starrah and Raye‘s delivery fits the song they’re on, MO feels slightly tacked on.
Whereas Uffie is obnoxiously fitting (warning if you listen to it loud, it’s a tad painful) and there’s a reason why her popularity has faded. Abra injects her smoothness but, again, it’s unremarkable and that’s a shame. Shes one of the most anticipated up and coming artists, so where is the show-stopping performance? Granted, her feature is on “Drugs”, a woozy, Yung Lean inspired affair.
However, she ends up melding with the instrumental, limiting her presence. Perhaps their aim was create a consuming, sonic representation of the highs and lows of drugs. Either way, it’s a shame.
Despite the minor criticisms, Number 1 Angel is the perfect romp and it ends the way a record like this should – with an absolutely batshit speed-infused anthem. Its name? “Lipgloss” (that’s a euphemism by the way). Not only does Charli XCX bring her seduction in abundance but it’s matched, if not beaten by the sheer force of nature that is CupcaKKe. Without spoiling it too much, it’s definitely the climax you were looking for.
Once the album finished, there was a definite hunger for more, I listened to it at least six times before writing this. It’s an absolute smash from beginning to end, and as I mentioned, even the weaker moments (and they are few) are of a calibre where it doesn’t detract from the experience.
The production is consistently perfect, it’s lush, extensively varied and inventive. It’s the definition of futuristic pop. Each sound is an aural feast. Charli XCX has managed to craft a stylised, highly-focused project that’s far better than the current wave of pop. She’s got the sickly sweet, the trashy-sex talk and a tonne of swagger that carries the mixtape from start to finish.
It’s such a blast to turn the volume up and be swallowed by the sheer chaos. Number 1 Angel is ultra-hyper, super sexual, cyber-bubblegum pop music at it finest. Charli XCX’s Number 1 Angel can be heard on iTunes here.
Words by Jake Gould