|______EARTH ARTIFACTS MUSEUM________| ___________________ / /~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ | () / /_________________ |() ___________ /--------------------------- // / /======|=D=O=D=G=E=|====== //____________ _____________________________/ /------------------ _______ 1970 _______ / |[==] MERCEDES [==]| |_/|__|__|_____/|__|__|_/| |_______2019_______| | |`V` `---' 'V'| | | | """" o | | |______| |______| |_| |_| "As you kids can see, Charli XCX created the Mercedes-Benz® automobile 80 years ago with her song 'White Mercedes.' Our lives were changed forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and evr and ernaf ande evekljadfnerlkaj lkds;jfoewu!!!!!!!!" _/ ( ) / /|~| _/ _/ | |/ ( ) ( ) ||| /|~|/|~| ||| '||| |||' O O o o o o
You are so important to pop music, angel. You’re the one. You ask its questions in your heart; it tells you it’s OK. You believe that it understands you well, and it writes you into itself. You listen for the feeling of belonging, every voice in one room singing every other word, and it points the mic in your direction. You turn it up and obliterate yourself from the inside out, reestablishing somewhere the good in there: it’s Charli. And she’s not you. She’s literally the best pop star ever, angel, Pluto, Neptune, future —
If, like me, your faith in Charli itself wavered, you are forgiven and I hope relieved. Maybe because of the delays, I let anxiety put the anti in my anticipation, where my faulty precognition decided that Charli would be the lower non-harmony to Pop 2 and Number 1 Angel. Because it’s a proper finale to that mixtape trilogy, maybe you were afraid it wouldn’t be her vision, the way True Romance seemed only to get some of Earthquakes and Heartbreaks and Super Ultra. Maybe I worried about it because the new lead single was squeaky like platinum, despite the fact that “Blame It On Your Love” is exactly the 3D-re-release of “Track 10” I’m here for. Or that the official lack of SOPHIE meant a total reinvention, although both of them have leaked and lived and learned since VROOM VROOM gave angels wings.
That’s right, I was worried about Charli selling out, as if she doesn’t still perform global pop sensation “I Don’t Care” as an encore, where angels DON’T CARE and, in fact, LOVE IT. As if she’s any less accomplished on one stage than the other. It’s the problem with a narrativization that tracks her machinic early career as something redeemed by the novelty of her partnership with A. G. Cook and SOPHIE, the notion that her really-real-hyperreal-label-autre-anti-auteurism could be undone by a return to something more major. Charli is major, but Charli can’t not collaborate, she can’t not, “ə-ə-ə-ə-XCX.”
Inasmuch as pop music means Carly Rae Jepsen, I believe it’s supposed to save our souls and reunite us with unity, not the ecstasy of forgetting or the ecstasy of remembering, but the act of singing. She sings, “I promise I won’t let you go.” What if Charli can’t save us? Then nothing can, except for this necessary fantasy, which is the holistic and ekphrastic promise of Charli: Harmony as unison. Charli has a generous collaborative ethic, and this makes her music mutant, her features creatures, each blooming and bending the walls around them like Neo, turning a track into an exquisite corpse (weekend at Charli’s). Brand dilution realized as a party for 12, an unashamed transparency that prefigures solidarity and — being optimistic — the future of pop.
If the kayfabe of pop is identity, then Charli’s move is to render herself incomplete or obsolete. And then to cube every voice through Charli, every contributing artist inspired by each other and by herself. She meets them where they are, and they’re all so out of this world that it makes something as immediate as her “Gone” duet with Christine and The Queens conjure the call between deeps (ə-ə-ə-ə-XCX). They ask, “Why do we love?” In harmony as unity. After songwriting summits and endless features, she’s come by it honestly, a singularity of purpose. Less idle idol worship, more file-sharing. A host, the album speaks to her faith in community (and her faith in partying!).
It’s a party album, which means it’s utopian. It’s a solo album, which means it’s rebooting. “Next Level Charli” doesn’t sound like a version we’ve never heard before; it sounds like the very same, not even accelerated but integrated, at 100% synchronization rate, running up that hill, channeling the non-stop spirit of “3 Peat,” of self-confidence through self-refinement, modeling, yes, this is what it sounds like to keep going, to keep growing. That includes when you have to “put your hands up and scream,” or dance, or just drive. “Vroom Vroom,” if that outro’s Heaven was Real, was a highway, where the billboards advertise the “on and on and on and on and.” This is the suggestive power of the self-title, maybe, or the facts: now, Charli sounds more completely reunited with Charli. She begins: “I never look back” (“Next Level Charli”)… “I just wanna go back” (“1999”). Every era, every mixtape, she’s bending toward herself. It clicks: She went pop, she believes in beauty (“Beautiful”).
Beauty is bump in the rave. After watching the “Gone” video more than once, I found myself moving my body like that, you know, fully committed. Where “Click” and “Shake It” need no more than one listen to elicit goosebumps and dropped jaws and shaking and screaming, some of the featureless tracks burrow (I touch the mirror of “Silver Cross,” it goes down my throat, cold). I see the light through the window coming in with the chorus I sing in the shower (“White Mercedes”), we slow-dance in the kitchen with tears in your eyes (“Official”), and then sweat slides between our shoulders jumping up and down. I’m not listening alone, so she’s not recording alone. You’re so important to pop music.
Is it cold in the water? Are you waiting for a good time? What was once non-stop comes full-stop. When the “2099” jetski engines stop roaring, it’s a cable sign-off sine wave she rides into the SMPTE horizon, the last sound we hear belonging to a test pattern by which you can measure your color settings. Charli sets a standard, with room for input, for adjustment, for putting faith in the sum, in partnership, in yourself, in parties, in pop. Across the waves, she reaches out to her new listeners calling a familiar name, “It’s Charli/ It’s Charli, baby,” singing a Next Level perfect song: true love will find you in the end, blue and pink like the sky, the change that lasts forever and ever and
Hello again, dearest readers, and welcome to The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year™, wherein we here at TMT™ proceed to systematically overwhelm you with such devastating displays of our collective musical taste buds’ complete and utter Un-Fuck-With-Ability™ throughout the past 365 days that you have no choice but to capitulate, agree with, and retweet everything we say. Oh, how we’ve been looking forward to this!
The latest in our power-mad agenda is this genuinely infallible list of our Favorite 50 Songs of 2018, which revisits all of the choice jams and non-jams that made the year 2018 so indisputably GREAT for EVERYONE in EVERY COUNTRY on EARTH, bar none! But don’t worry: because we know that your powers of retention are kinda feeble compared with ours, we’ve decided once again to make it a little easier for you to digest all of this next-level information by dividing it up into five separate themed mixes that we’re rolling out each day this week, titled GYM, VOID, CLIFF, ALLEY, and COUPE.
Now, this isn’t to say that you can’t enjoy our list of GYM songs while driving your COUPE off of a CLIFF or whatever; it’s just that we’re really, really desperate to control every aspect of your psychology, and we thought that sorting all of these fantastic 2018 highlights according to a few completely subjective and impressionistic “moods” would be a great way to do that. I mean: who the hell are you to argue, right? Right!
Happy holidays, everyone. Let’s get listening.
GYM · VOID · CLIFF · ALLEY · COUPE
Today’s GYM mix features 10 ridiculously brawny jams from the past year, guaranteed to increase your VO2 max, even if you’re lying under the covers with your basset hound and smartphone right now. From powerlifting heavyweights like Ms. Boogie and DJ Koze to lithe and agile entries from W00dy and Charli XCX, all of these entries are sweaty, swole, tight, and chiseled like washboards.
PART 1: “GYM” mixed by C Monster
“Catharsis” was the sound of a million MIDI-triggered samples shooting into an anti-gravity chamber at lightspeed. Once W00dy threw a new, brightly-colored element into the mix, it didn’t stop for a second, bouncing off other components instead, creating increasingly chaotic yet ultimately deterministic complexity akin to a double pendulum. The Philadelphia producer is one of few artists in the deconstructed club scene breaking apart traditional club elements while simultaneously keeping the dance floor moving. Fitting that her tagline is: “Attempting to bring absurdity 2 the dance floor.” Close your eyes, find something to latch onto, don’t let go for seven minutes.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu
“きみのみかた (Kimino Mikata)”
“Kimino Mikata” was a gift. I mean that literally. Given as a birthday present to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu from producer Yasutaka Nakata, the track erupted with a sparkling onslaught of hyaluronic J-pop melodics and sprightly bass throbs, proving how a culture of cuteness doesn’t have to be a market of infantilization, even if the Harajuku star uses the track to sell skin-renewing face masks dipped in liquid essence. While the song touted uncharacteristically serious subject matter — the search for allies in the face of alienation and Fake News — “Kimino Mikata” was also about replenishment and renewal, about perseverance and the refusal of the human spirit to submit.
Over the most killer bass line of the year, darkly elastic and building with sinister synths, Ms. Boogie spat and purred. “Morphin Time” read as a celebration of transness as transition. Rather than an end product based on a normative idea of what a woman or man should be, she celebrated a process of becoming that was full of contradictions. And if that sounds a bit heavy, it was accompanied by references to the titular Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (the metaphor should be obvious), a delightfully dirtied-up J-Lo line, a queered Sisqo, Wakanda’s Black (power) Afrofuturist Vibranium, and vogue/ballroom culture. Ms. Boogie is stepping into her comfort zone, and “Morphin Time” was a bangin’ly seductive introduction to join her there.
As sensual as lip-wet whispers and a voice so sexy even the sax shudders while flirting with such deep gentle resonance. And the beat bounces! Swathing Moodymann’s blues with purple light, pink sound. While the sun shines. And it’s all just so… comfy! Yet, however seduced, we can’t lie in languor, so now we move all flash and flourish, like fingertips light on the keys and tip toes on warm pavement and hip, those roses strewn in the street. A daze for days, though eyelids low still eyes sparkle; this beat kept us cool.
GYM! GYM! GYM! I do not go to the GYM anymore. They tried to kick me out for “lifting weak-like, dancing way big, a spectacle.” They wanted to revoke my membership! But then I asked the GYM people if they’d ever felt their whole hearts melted into rainbow chasm? If they’d ever heard a whole planet reflected in that space, a bopping neon liberating and loving all their bodies? And they said no they hadn’t! So I let them drink from my headphones that effervescent trap gospel of Bad Gyal. And the GYM people asked me, “Will this free us?” So I shrugged! And now we all dance, membershipless, “INTERNATIONALLY,” thinking, maybe it will.
This year, Ploy gave us the answer to a question we didn’t know we’d been asking: what happens when you take the current strain of post-hardcore continuum/bass music (?) emerging from labels like Timedance and combine it with the sound of one of those springy door stoppers being thwacked? You get something like “Ramos,” this year’s consensus pick for track most likely to make you grin in the dance. Over nearly seven delirious minutes, “Ramos” rolled and gasped, spitting out words (“Selektah”) and parts of words (“tah, tah, tah”) before juddering to a halt, ready to be rewound and set on its merry way once more. Sing it with me now: “Selektah, tah, tah, tah.”
It would be nice to believe that it’s enough in the era of chronic distraction to momentarily narrow your field of view to something sensual and human. Charli XCX’s “Focus,” an alloy of unadulterated desire and satisfaction, embodied the simple dream of embrace without interruption. If pop generally finds the essences of music synthesized into overcompressed clods of pleasure-forward sound, “Focus,” with its crystalline synths and calibrated melodies, was its apotheosis, a song so fixed to the ethos of pop escapism that the attention-deficient world outside of it languished in plain, loveless monochrome. It was a diamond among infinite interference, contact in the cold.
House music’s endless pulse continues to transform as the decades march on, but DJ Koze cut straight to its core this year with his album-minted version of live favorite “Pick Up.” True to the genre’s form, the song did as much as it could with as little as possible, consisting entirely of a sample from Melba Moore’s 1970s disco single “Pick Me Up, I’ll Dance” mixed in with the occasional refrain from Gladys Knight’s “Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye).” It was a hi-def take on the classic sound of 90s techno (which was, itself, standing on the shoulders of those crooning soul singers of days past), all brought back into focus for a late-2010s world that’s begun to rediscover dance music for itself. Between its vintage sparkle and bassy punch, “Pick Up” reached for timelessness in an age where nothing seems to last for more than a few seconds, gazing to the past while capturing a tangible slice of the neverending present. It was bittersweet in the same way that looking through old photographs is, reminding us that while it’s true we can never go back, just look at how far we’ve come.
“Womp Womp” (ft. Jeremih)
Here at TMT, we like to think that we often “womp” our readers with site content. This might not make any sense to you, so here’s a favorite song of ours by Valee and Jeremih, titled “Womp Womp,” to show you what we mean. Hear how Jeremih is womp-ing at the beginning of the hook, and you don’t really understand it, but you like it? That’s the womp factor. Then here comes Valee (a Chicagoan who made big moves in 2018 by signing to G.O.O.D. Music) like halfway through, sauntering up to the mic with aloof detachment, present but removed, his flow a sigh in concert with cool animation: that’s also the womp factor. They perfectly tag-teamed the womp throughout and struck a fine balance over the filthy womp-worthy beat; by the end, they were just having fun passing the baton back and forth, womping and womping. Delightful! What else can be said? You’re right: womp womp.
For the high-functioning Type A in your rolodex: “Work It” was retro-dance fetishism in function and in form — business and pleasure with elite performance. It exploited the shared jargon of the office and the nightclub in solidarity with the corporatized center of modern dance music. Consider the idea of mobility: capitalism is, like, so obsessed with the illusion of the corporate ladder, and the liberational movement of dance, co-opted so gracelessly away from its roots, inches ever toward dancefloor meritocracy. At this point, all you can do is monetize your existence like everyone else.
Come back tomorrow to hear the “VOID” mix by Evan Coral.
She wasn’t supposed to make it past 25. Charlotte Aitchison’s Charli XCX persona has never been geared toward longevity. Whether braving an apocalyptic day of reckoning on “Nuclear Seasons” or literalizing her mortality on “Die Tonight,” the Cambridge singer has long displayed a sense of fatalism in her music. On True Romance, Charli’s oncoming demise demanded romantic consummation, no matter how transitory. On Sucker, she combated encroaching death with puerile hedonism and carnal distraction. And unlike compatriots and fellow Bacchanalia frontline journalists Arctic Monkeys, whose distaste for English nightlife is so acute you might mistake them for teetotalers, Charli revels in the debauchery of the London club scene, viewing its inevitable hangover as fait accompli and, consequently, a nonissue. This is why her career never seemed likely to sustain itself; the good times were bound to kill this death-obsessed girl. But the joke’s on us: she’s still alive, and on Pop 2, Charli XCX returns for more profligacy, yet this time with a keener perspective recalibrated by the nuances of young adult maturity.
There’s a certain territoriality and arrogance in Charli naming her mixtape Pop 2, but much of her music is spent negotiating the line between admirable confidence and aggressive hauteur. Charli spent roughly half of Sucker explaining that she was too good for you — even if she’ll mete out second and third chances for the sake of comfort and familiarity — while elsewhere flaunting her superhuman tolerance to narcotics and a vast wealth that puts Croesus to shame. And so on Pop 2, we see more of the cocksureness Charli exhibits in spades, as on the escapist-affirmative “Out of My Head” (ft. Tove Lo and ALMA), as well as a self-assured autonomy on tracks like the prurient, cloying “Unlock It” (ft. Kim Petras and Jay Park).
Yet on most of these tracks, Charli XCX sounds to have abjured the truculence and grandeur that granted her notoriety on singles like “Boom Clap,” “Fancy,” and “I Love It,” with much emphasis on her guests, which include Carly Rae Jepsen, CupcakKe, Mykki Blanco, Pabllo Vittar, MØ, Dorian Electra, and more. The Caroline Polachek duet “Tears” finds the singer reckoning with her proclivity for caprice, singing “I killed our life, I’m crazy […] Door shut tight, that ain’t love, no.” In place of her trademark overconfidence, Charli delivers a comparatively unadorned performance, signaling what seems to be genuine feelings of remorse. She may not be the most convincing agent of regret, but Charli didn’t pen these songs in hopes of credence or validation. Instead, she’s singing for her own benefit, to make sense of the needless waffling and unrest in her relationships. More power to her.
In the last 40 seconds of “Delicious” (ft. Tommy Cash), the track shifts from a scrupulously produced club banger to a pristine choir. This is an apt metonym for the instrumentation and arrangements of Pop 2. With production help from the likes of SOPHIE, Life Sim, King Henry, EASYFUN, and executive producer A. G. Cook, the music vacillates between synth-powered spectral screeches and jolts and immaculate choral beds, as if to reconcile the delineation between the impersonal nature of club life, with its ephemeral hookups, and the deceptive jubilance of a real, long-term relationship. The result is mixed bag, with the album’s industrial moments more engrossing by virtue of their immediacy and the more human elements of the production turning into a slog if left alone for too long.
For better or for worse, Charli XCX is embracing maturity on her fourth mixtape. Now 25 years (and some change) old, Charlotte Aitchison looks to be relieving herself of the “born to die young” credo she’s so ardently maintained for the past few years in favor of something more stable. And though she may not find what she’s looking for anytime soon, Charli XCX, on Pop 2, is at least looking down a new path.