2017 was a disappointment for poptimists on multiple fronts. But on her second mixtape of the year, Charli XCX, aka Charlotte Aitchison, redeems the genre's newfound critical appreciation while continuing to flout her peers' more populist ambitions.
In what's becoming something of an annual tradition, Aitchison made one of the year's best singles — in this case the effervescent "Boys" — then didn't bother including it on her subsequent record. It's fitting, though; "Boys" captured the pop moment, while Pop 2 points a way forward.
Teaming once again with PC Music impresario A.G. Cook, the mixtape sees Aitchison flexing her pop songwriting muscles, trying on a variety of styles and sounds with a grab bag of famous friends. Carly Rae Jepsen turns in a solid verse on opener "Backseat," Tove Lo and Finnish singer ALMA help out on highlight "Out of My Head," and Dorian Electra and Mykki Blanco drop by to help out on "Femmebot." Aitchison switches styles as often as she switches partners, too: abstract electronics, hip-hop and MOR ballads are all grist for Cook's mill.
Not all of it works. The Caroline Polachek-assisted "Tears" sounds like an "Out of the Woods" rip-off, while "I Got It," featuring Brooke Candy, cupcakKe and Pabllo Vittar is muddled — Aitchison feels like an afterthought on her own track. And while "Boys" showed that Cook could set his auteurist production tendencies aside to better showcase the artist as a star, here he chops and manipulates vocals to the point that they're almost unrecognizable.
Yet even in the clunkers, you can sense the throw-it-against-the-wall approach that typified the mixtape's creation, a process that took a matter of weeks. In this sense, Pop 2 has more in common with Drake's More Life than the Q-rated-to-death releases from Katy and Taylor. Like the 6 God's "playlist," this mixtape has no higher purpose than to let its creators run wild, showcasing their prodigious talents with frequent moments of pop brilliance. Whenever Aitchison and Cook get around to making a followup to Charli XCX's last album proper, 2014's Sucker, the results are going to be deadly. (Asylum/Warner)