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Charli XCX can’t stand still for too long. Her debut album was indie-spirited electro pop with 90s girl-group obsessions and 2014’s Sucker was a toned-down attempt at Riot Grrrrl experimentation, the original of which still remains unreleased. There is, however, nothing toned down or comprised about Vroom Vroom, the four-track EP which makes history as the first release on Charli XCX’s own record label, Vroom Vroom Recordings.
PC music has been around for a while now but is still to make any considerable impact on the mainstream, elements of which it subverts to absolute extremes. To date, London-based SOPHIE has pioneered the genre, last year releasing his debut album Product and several co-productions which include that of the ultimate pop-cultural magpie Madonna on ‘Bitch, I’m Madonna’.
SOPHIE appears alongside Charli XCX throughout Vroom Vroom, producing every track and with the two’s relationship feeling very much like a collaboration based on mutual respect and a shared anarchic rebellion.
Make no mistake, Charli XCX’s new change of direction is unfiltered and staggeringly confident. Over the EP’s four tracks, she takes SOPHIE’s trademark metallic and crisp, rude and dripping electronic sounds and sculpts them into the perfect backdrop for her Mariah-esque harmonies, Max Martin chord changes and love of the purest pop music.
For the length of its runtime, the EP makes you forget about everything bad around you.
Of all the songs here, ‘Vroom Vroom’ is probably the most audacious and thrilling. It’s here that Charli XCX and SOPHIE really run riot with genre expectations and perceived limitations.
Expect a rap that is part bougie Brit-girl trash-talk combined with layered and lush harmonies straight off Carey’s 1995 Daydream album and an occasional Charli XCX deadpanning a ‘beep beep’ horn. Monkey wrench noises shatter and grind, and over-developed synths – which sound like a wall of demonic, cartoon drag-car racers – tear in and out of the vocals. And then we’re straight back in the wine bar, with finger-clicking, diamond encrusted R&B at its most cheesy and fabulous. It’s mesmerising and it’s hard to take.
Hannah Diamond – PC music’s queen to SOPHIE’s gender non-conforming king – features on the pitched0up, J-pop rave-ballad ‘Paradise’ but it’s the campy and hard-house-indebted ‘Trophy’ that bangs hardest of all.
Things take a dark turn on the EP closer ‘Secret (Shh)’ – the kind of song that would have turned up on the last good Britney album – but Charli XCX encloses it within a doom-laden electro-cavern of screeches and stuttering screams.
‘Vroom Vroom’ is going to be a hard sell chart-wise and probably won’t challenge ‘Boom Clap’ as Charli XCX’s most successful solo hit.
The music on this EP is reminiscent of late-90s R&B, when The Neptunes and Timabland started to produce music that mixed up genres that normally wouldn’t coexist together. A common phrase used at the time to describe songs by artists like Kelis and Aaliyah was futuristic.
Charli XCX doesn’t mimic this sound but in 2016, she does sound like the future. She may still be slightly ahead of herself, though, and I can’t think of a bigger compliment to bestow on her. Vroom Vroom is awesome.