[EXCLUSIVE] Interview with Charli XCX + ‘True Romance’ Album Review
The first time I heard Charli XCX, my heart was a wasteland, befitting the material of her groundbreaking first single, “Nuclear Seasons”. I parroted her lyrics to myself as I retreated within my “shelter to survive this storm”, otherwise known as that selfish, dark abode in my wounded mind I escape to. Yet even as I hid out from the world in there, the analytical music reviewer in me was bewildered by the sonic immediacy and immense talent that was realized in that debut single. I hadn’t been affected by a track like that since hearing her unfair comparison, Marina and The Diamonds, for the first time a few years ago.
I needed more, and I avidly sought out each new single as it came out. But I have to say, Charli XCX’s musical progression baffled me. For awhile, as she publicly developed her sound with each new release, it seemed like her path was frustratingly schizophrenic. In no way did her path mimic the traditional pop route so many female artists in the last few years have taken. Her singles felt familiar, but exceedingly broad in their exploration. That was particularly the case with “Cloud Aura,” featuring the glorious Brooke Candy (who I and most of the indie world discovered through Grimes’ “Genesis” music video.
What I didn’t recognize at the time, and what becomes exceedingly clear with the release of her debut LP, True Romance, was that we were seeing the development of a unique artist with a sound totally her own. A Charli XCX track is like no other, and True Romance brings that fact home by connecting all of her style’s disparate eccentricities into a cohesive artistry. Suddenly, seemingly oddball tracks like “Cloud Aura” connected with streamlined songs like “Stay Away” made sense within her trajectory as an artist.
I like to think of True Romance as comprised of 13 individual candy hearts, each with their own special kiss off message. If you want to get really involved in the album, do take good whiff of that powder which coats each song. It ain’t confectioners’ sugar, though, my dears, but rather a good kick of Special (K)XC-X (you know, pun intended). True Romance is the kind of album that when listened to as a full meal, knocks you on your ass and transports you to a special place for its running time where love and interconnectedness is the shit, yo—so fucking sit back and enjoy the ride.
Over the entire LP, Charli XCX’s acid tongue is gloriously vulgar in ways female artists rarely feel the freedom to do so. That is an achievement in and of itself and is part of what endears me to her. You can tell it never even registered to her to give two fucks whether some patriarchal douchebags found her lyrics indecorum; and that allows the album to swagger with effortless cool. Still, these nonchalant, dark observations are always interwoven amongst the honeyed hopefulness of the album’s instrumentation so as to never sideline it in bitterness. Her songs are candy shaped hearts, each with their own message, each blistered the scorching reality of love’s undesirable moments.
Charli XCX’s vision eschews traditional arrangements in favor of whimsical, sporadic structures that ebb and flow with the feeling of the track. That makes some songs like “How Can I” weak as potential singles but a strong album track. “Set Me Free”, “Grins” and “Take My Hand” are standouts amongst the new material, and I hope that “Set Me Free” is a single, because that shit will blow up summer radio—the bridge on that song is fucking amazing.
I’m generally 100% a singles only kind of guy, but Charli XCX’s take on gothy, angel pop creates such a satiating sound that it makes investing the time into an LP totally worth it Only one weak track is present, the proficient but oddly forgettable “Black Roses”. But for someone who only expects 1 or 2 great singles to exist on an indie LP to make it great (1 or 2 great indie tracks=12 mediocre mainstream tracks), one weakling vs. twelve aural warriors makes True Romance quite the achievement.
The Sights and Sounds: Hi Charli, how’s life treating you? Hope your tour has started off well. What’s Ellie Goulding like on tour? Any weird quirks? Are you two soul sisters?
Charli XCX: Haha tour is great. Not sure if me and Ellie are soul sisters quite yet, but she’s super cool. I’ve converted her into a lover of buffalo platform shoes though- she tried mine on the other day… Just you wait, soon the whole world will be in them, and it will be a better place for it!!!
The Sights and Sounds: Enough about Ellie, more about you. What do you do to stay busy on the road? Any strange hobbies?
Charli XCX: Not really… I don’t have time for strange hobbies. I am just constantly writing or working at the moment. I write for other artists too… So that’s kind of what I fill my time with really. We’re starting a USA tour with Marina and the diamonds in may and some of the boys in my band want to go to as many of the restaurants in ‘man vs food’ as possible.. It’s freaking me out actually… I don’t wanna get super fat! We also want to do as many theme parks as possible.. Disney here I come!
The Sights and Sounds: The brash honesty of your lyrics is one of your traits as an artist I love the most. Has anyone foolishly ever tried to curtail them?
Charli XCX: No never. I am always 100% in charge of everything I do. And I am quite stubborn. I only work with producers who understand my style. They just get it so I just do my thing and it works, you know.
The Sights and Sounds: What inspired the use of Gold Panda‘s “You” in “You (Ha Ha Ha)”?
Charli XCX: Well I’ve always loved that song and I’ve always loved gold panda as an artist. I was just playing around with the idea of doing something over the original beat… It was never meant to turn into anything serious, but then I played it to a few people and they were really into it, so I asked gold panda if I could use it and he said yes. Which was super cool of him. I think his beats are so ethereal and beautiful. It was great to be able to use it.
The Sights and Sounds: Would you rather: Stick around as a ghost or reincarnate as something (what would it be)?
Charli XCX: I’d love to be reincarnated as a lion or a tiger. They’re such amazing animals. They’re so wild.
The Sights and Sounds: If time weren’t an issue, who would you write a song with?
Charli XCX: I really wanted to work with Emile Hayne on this record, and we got close… But it just didn’t work out in the end. I’d also love to do something with Robyn too… We’ve spoken about it a few times, but again it just kind of didn’t come together.
The Sights and Sounds: What’s the weirdest venue you’ve performed at?
Charli XCX: Hahaa I had this really really really weird show last year in this theatre in dalston in london. It was an amazing venue but it turned out that I’d been booked as the ‘special act’ to play this university talent contest… It was so WEIRD. There were like loads of parents and grand parents there who had no idea who I was and were basically just there to see their kids perform or whatever, so it must have been so annoying when they had to sit through a half an hour set from me, it was pretty weird.
The Sights and Sounds: If you could write a letter today and have it delivered to yourself one year ago, what would you say?
Charli XCX: I wouldn’t bother writing it. I’d loose it in a year. My life is messy.
The Sights and Sounds: Lastly, what is your spirit animal? And why?
Charli XCX: A puppy. Playful, but shy and self contained… But sometimes hyper active!!!!!!!
The Sights and Sounds: Thanks for answering our questions! Can’t wait to catch you when you come to Chicago! Safe travels and sonic waves until then!
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