• By: Owen Maxwell

Album Reviews: Charli XCX, Blue Hawaii, Billie Eilish

Charli XCX – Brat
Cambridge, England

Though it seems like she’s about to hit the second popularity peak of her career, Charli XCX has been knocking out stellar heady-yet-catchy albums since the Vroom Vroom and Pop 2 era. While the pop is on point here, Charli has managed to inject so many extra layers into her last few records that this one only suffers in comparison to how many 10s she’s dropped back-to-back. There’s a solid mix of classic Charli and a new refined sense of writing on “360,” where we’re getting a bit of everything Charli does so well, and stripped down to this singular feeling in this vocal-heavy single. Focusing on a more layered and blown-out drive, “Club Classics” takes a more predictable dance flow and let’s Charli twist it into her world, though not always uniquely enough to work outside of the album itself. Hooks and a dazzling production lets “Talk Talk” get lost in the beautiful euphoria of wondrous relationship, and put you right in the centre of that emotion and join Charli. The filter is more present than usual on “Von Dutch” as a Charli track that wouldn’t have gone wrong on the “Challengers” soundtrack moves through sonic phases, while booming and shaking with reckless abandon.

Begonia Stay Forever (Single)
Winnipeg, Manitoba

In the light and sparse production that starts her latest single, Begonia keeps things sombre on “Stay Forever.” Though as the harmonies swell in and the pianos start to ring louder, you can feel the sense of moving forward and self-confidence grow. And then, it’s mixed up in fear and a different beauty in the second instrumental break, as there are equal parts warmth and dangerous cold in the tones at play. Alexa Dirks even leaves you uncertain of her intention as the final lines of the song speak to no longer needing anyone, but don’t quite place it between lines of “comfortable being single” vs misanthropic.

Blue Hawaii – Diamond Shovel

Though Blue Hawaii has always made a clear leap forward through dance phases with each record, their jump into more glitched-out, club tones is their first push to more abrasive territory. Given how strong their work on the My Bestfriend’s House EP was, the pivot from a house-meets-disco album to full techno can be jarring. While it can mean some fans will be put off at first or at least slow to dig in, there’s still the same emphatic production and entrancing performances to get you overtaken with joy on every listen. “Diamond Shovel” is a blaring and all-out banger, with the growling beat and Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s vocals at their most unhinged in years across the course of one song. Standell-Preston’s personal modulation on “Deep as Sixteen” lets the story really evolve over the course of the song, with her going from a solemn call to pained wails as the bass creeps over to the whole track. The samples and silky vocals on “Enemy” creates a standout track, driving from top to bottom, and one that satisfyingly drips out its story of how quickly those tender connections can become frayed and ugly. Similarly, the full commitment to the chaos and extravagance on “Summer for the Loners,” is what makes it so intoxicating, with every extra acoustic detail and shout from Standell-Preston taking the song higher and higher.

L’Impératrice – Pulsar
Paris, France

Though punchy disco-pop has always been L’Impératrice’s bread and butter, they’ve decided to take things in a more subtle direction on their latest album. While it doesn’t always feel quite as iconic as their earlier work, it delivers some mesmerizing moments throughout that will stick with you indefinitely. The finessed ecstasy to “Me Da Igual” takes over your soul in seconds, with even the most downbeat tones of the track having a punchy beat or groove laced into the background. While the track underplays its pop almost too much, “Love from the Other Side” has such a wondrous level of hook crafting that once it hits its most fleshed-out moments, I wondered why they don’t play it up more. “Danza Marilù” however delivers with effortless glee, swapping between languages on top of its divine bass licks and pulling you further in right through the smile-inducing breakdown where even the talking has a colour to it that’s hard to ignore. Like a funk jam meets symphonic wonder, “Any Way” is a spacey trip of a listen, with Maggie Rogers delivering arguably her best feature ever, as she delivers one warm and hazy vocal after another, while highlighting just how strong L’Impératrice are as a band behind her.

Billie Eilish Hit Me Hard and Soft
Los Angeles, CA

Billie Eilish’s level of stardom has definitely resulted in some moments of less interesting music than when she first started, but she always turns around with more dark and nuanced compositions every few years to get us interested again. With stellar and often off-kilter production on a record that always stays lyrically intimate, Eilish finds a great middle ground to keep fans from all sides of her work on board without losing herself in the mix. That shift from lo-fi to clear on “Lunch” is a transition you can feel in your bones, and Eilish dances so smoothly on those chorus vocals that you want to just slink and shake along with her. “Chihiro” glides on its infectious bass runs, with Eilish floating on each line like a lost spirit, with her romantic sense of longing drifting in and out as the story goes on. There’s a slow-burning charm to “Birds of a Feather” as it starts simple, and slowly wins you over with the immense power of its overt romanticism and the waves of beauty in the instrumentation, let alone Eilish’s impassioned delivery on each subsequent chorus. Eilish is at her most ambitious on “Blue,” swaying between genre conventions every few minutes to create a layered masterpiece of emotional storytelling that will take you from pulsating highs to a melancholic pit.