In the last two years, English singer/songwriter Charlotte Emma Aitchison, aka Charli XCX, has gone from penning quaint power pop tunes with a slight alt-rock edge to futuristic, infectious electropop that often ventures into the experimental side of the genre. Her collaboration with members and affiliates of the record label PC Music, who are known for their avant-garde, glitchy and often surrealist approach to pop and electronic sounds, has seen her become one of the most forward-thinking figures in popular music. Her two new simultaneously-released singles, ‘Focus’ and ‘No Angel’, both feature elements of the conventional and the unconventional.
‘Focus’ is an energetic and intoxicating dancefloor filler with bass-heavy production from A.G. Cook, the head of PC Music and Charli’s current Creative Director, as well as duo Jack & Coke. Despite its spacey aesthetic, the track is incredibly hard-hitting, thanks to a booming bass line, tight percussive parts that carry an irresistible groove, and a build-up throughout the track that culminates in a spectacular climax. The vocal line of the song’s hook feels as if its pulsating along with the percussion, creating a strangely hypnotic effect that adds eccentricity to the track. With its jittery synthesizers, as well as the robotic tone of the singer’s vocals on the hook, ‘Focus’ is a more EDM-inspired song than ‘No Angel’, but is no less sweet on the ears. Much like Aitchison’s 2017 single ‘Boys’, the strength and infectiousness of this track lies in its simplicity and repetition, especially when it comes to Charli’s contagious flow throughout the song.
‘No Angel’, a bubblegum pop banger with a prominent hip-hop flare, is both the more direct and less orthodox of the two tracks. This track is produced by songwriting/production trio The Invisible Men, who worked with Aitchison on her previous single, ‘5 in the Morning’, with additional production provided by SOPHIE, a PC Music affiliate who produced Charli’s ‘Vroom Vroom EP’ in 2016. The song features a straightforward groove at its centre, as well as fairly standard melodic material. However, the track’s production is filled with quirks, such as random bursts of electronic percussion, spliced and warped vocal samples at the beginning of the song, and tight compression placed on the instrumentation (these peculiarities are almost certainly the work of SOPHIE). Charli’s vocal melody is captivating enough to render the otherwise basic lyrics, which stand out more on this track than ‘Focus’ due to a clearer presence of Charli’s vocals, as acceptable. ‘No Angel’ is considerably less addictive than its sister single, but is still a fun, bright and bubbly tune.
Charli seems to be in the middle of a winning streak at the moment, having recently featured on singles from multiple big name artists, such as Rita Ora, Tove Lo, David Guetta and Lil Xan, and written for Blondie, Selena Gomez, Zara Larsson, Khalid and Diplo, amongst many others. She’s also received a considerable amount of critical acclaim lately, particularly for the second mixtape she released last year, ‘Pop 2’. It’s safe to say that the singer will continue to craft pop tunes that are equal parts experimental and infectious for quite some time, and these two songs are clear evidence of that.