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Charli XCX’s latest release, ‘Pop 2,’ is another gorgeous experiment on electro-pop

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In March 2017, Charlotte Aitchison, known by her stage name ‘Charli XCX,’ released her experimental mixtape, “Number 1 Angel,” which took just two weeks to complete. An empowering demonstration that features an all-female lineup of singers and rappers, the project received critical acclaim and was regarded as groundbreaking in the pop world.

Now, Aitchison has done it again. She released the follow-up mixtape, “Pop 2” at the end of 2017. With fresh collaborators as well as a number of artists who have previously appeared in her work, she reiterates many of the themes and sounds of her previous mixtape. This time, A.G. Cook (the main collaborator in “Number 1 Angel”) is the executive producer, having a hand in all 10 of the tracks on the mixtape. The mixtape also credits a number of producers from Cook’s label, PC Music.

Known for their futuristic, bubbly electro-pop, the influence PC Music has on this project is clear. More experimental than before, Aitchison branches off from her typical strong structure. While this mixtape features a number of the same artists that were featured previously, it gives off a much more exotic, exploratory vibe than before.

Opening with “Backseat,” Aitchison and Carly Rae Jepsen, the Canadian pop star featured on the track, set the tone with a bleak, empty song on solitude. The first verse opens with, “I can’t escape all the voices, and so, I turn it up/I go to parties with strangers so I can figure it out/Run through a city at midnight to feel like a star/I want it all, even if it’s fake.”

The voices of the two singers blend seamlessly together, creating a melancholic, weary tone that fits with the frigid production of the song. Being mega-stars, the song almost feels like a reflection on losing their star power; their time has passed, and their music is unable to reach others. The computerized arpeggios of buzzy synthesizer carry the song out as the two women drift into nothingness, representing how powerful Aitchison and Cook can be.

As the mixtape progresses, it’s clear that “Pop 2” foreshadows the future of pop. Aitchison and Cook create a formula consisting of inclusivity, femininity, complex lyrics, Auto-Tune and more experimentation with synths, bass and genre-bending.

Just like its predecessor, what helps make this mixtape is its number of features, but the difference is that it is not an all-female lineup. Some of the new featured artists are Korean-American rapper Jay Park, Estonian rapper Tommy Cash and gender-fluid artist Mykki Blanco, just to name a few.

In “Pop 2,” each time an artist is featured, Aitchison and Cook give them a space that complements the artist and their talents. Aitchison has a knack for befriending many artists and is a chameleon in the pop and hip-hop worlds. No matter which artist Aitchison works with, she can blend herself in a way that enhances each artists’ sound.

As a project, “Pop 2” doesn’t tell a single story. Each track feels disjointed from one another, but, in terms of a mixtape, it makes sense. “Pop 2” is a portfolio of Cook’s and Aitchison’s capabilities; they create their own space in music — a constructive, positive world filled with meticulous production and well thought-out collaboration. They aren’t here to tell one story, but to tell many stories and show how flexible their music can be.

Troy Kowalchuk can be reached [email protected]

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