• By: Owen Maxwell

Charli XCX’s amazingly produced album is instantly memorable


Charli XCX – Crash (Cambridge, U.K.)

Between her heights of pop and experimental phases, Charli XCX has clearly taken every turn as a lesson to refine her writing. Now with an arsenal of amazing production and tones behind her, and the sharpest two-minute pop bangers she’s dropped in ages, Charli drops an album that is instantly memorable to all of her fans. With a bit of Janet Jackson-style beats and vintage sheen, “Crash” sets the record off with a delicious hook and  such an overwhelming surge of lush sound that you just get lost and dance. An early-days Lady Gaga comes through on “Good Ones” as Charli drops jagged electronic riffs, and such a heavenly melodies in every section that each could be their own track. Even in the most familiar roots, “Yuck” sees Charli using the accessible grooves to infuse the most personable lyrics on  the album and with them her funniest track in a while. As she soars to a pure EDM moment with “Used To Know Me” she leans into the conventions of the sound, and drops a career-best hook to tie it all together.

Steve Neville  – Going Home (Single) (Ottawa/Toronto)

Stripping down the layered rock he did in the Balconies to a more singular and focused experience, Steve Neville reveals his own story more clearly on “Going Home.” With a kind of ghostly radio tone to his voice here, Neville makes an otherwise hopeful tale come across with a mysterious energy. Each verse chugs along with a seemingly tight and lo-fi course, but in the choruses and bridges, the song opens up to warm harmonies and a great sense of dynamic power that keeps the song evolving. With his former bandmates also rounding out the sound and giving us a bit of those tones we’ve missed as well, Neville shows how much his new course can build from what he’s done before as well.

Alex Cameron – Oxy Music (Sydney, Australia)

With his ability to dive headfirst into characters and a retro homage, Alex Cameron has made some memorable music. Though as the edges come off his acoustics, his latest record shows a knack for lyrics will only be able to carry his next albums so far if he chooses to remain in this lane. With notes of his Brandon Flowers seeping back through on “Best Life” there’s a sense of great chord writing, that lets the story hold strong in a track that’s truly only missing that dynamic drop. Though still in his character space, “Sara Jo” dives into his classic cheeky writing, that genuinely makes you smirk at his commentary, and how he can somehow make a song complaining about toxic people so catchy. “K Hole” is lacking that layered approach to the sound Cameron is usually so great at, but luckily his knack for churning out such a poetically goofy yarn works. The pastiche fun wraps up on “Oxy Music” with him making so many self-deprecating lines about himself tied to a great hook (or a character at least) that you definitely won’t be forgetting this one, especially in its darker moments.

Akawui – Nueva Era feat. Naskapi, Nelson Tagoona (Single) (Chile/Montreal)

Blending a punchy rock sound with traditional voices, through a story about rising up, Akawui creates a real sense of tension on “Nueva Era.” The guitars and  flutes provide a great counterpoint to each other, constantly moving in one direction while the other freestyles, and keeping a great dynamic range in the song’s bones. The range of people speaking on the song let you know just how deep the sense of urgency goes, even just how harshly it differs between the singers on this track alone. There’s also great touches of chanting, screams and throat noises that really flesh out the sound of the song. 

Stromae – Multitude (Brussels, Belgium)

An elusive voice in European pop circles, Stromae brings their vision to completion on their new album. While it’s certainly a niche and off-the-wall sonic experience, someone looking for a truly subversive listen will be in heaven. “Santé” takes the Latin swing and twists the beat and lets the low vocals fill all the space in its high-pitched production for a sublime experience. There’s such a wonderful oddity to the sound of “Fils de Joie” that you can’t help but marvel at the space Stromae creates within the song, and their ability to let their voice come in in so many different ways with only the most minor modulation makes for a shocking listen. Though it takes a minute to really take off, the menace of “L’enfer” comes full-swing on those amazing harmonies that truly create this feeling of suffering and pain. Convention feels left at the door on “Déclaration” as an off-kilter beat, quirky instrumental choices and a lot of warped production choices leave the song constantly zigging where you expect a zag.