DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Charli XCX is a British songwriter and performer who's written hits for Selena Gomez as well as for herself on two previous albums. Her new collection titled "Pop 2" is a gathering of collaborations with other artists, including Carly Rae Jepsen. Rock critic Ken Tucker says it's highly enjoyable pop music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BACKSEAT")
CHARLI XCX: (Singing) I can't escape all the voices, and so I turn it up. I go to parties with strangers so I can figure it out, run through a city at midnight to feel like a star. I want it all, even if it's fake. Breaking your heart, split it in half, told you it all - told you it all. Year and a half - are we in love? I'll never know. I'll never know. I know I'm wrong. What a mistake. I'll never change. I'll never change. I can't escape all the voices, and so I turn it up.
KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's Charli XCX trying to escape feelings of heartache and misery by cranking up the sound of the music - electronic dance pop full of crunching rhythm and clanking sound effects, her voice sometimes filtered or distorted for emotional effect. The track I played, called "Backseat," is a collaboration with the great Carly Rae Jepsen, one of current pop's most adventurous experimenters.
Charli XCX doesn't consider "Pop 2" a formal album but rather more of a mixtape, a loosely ordered collection of tracks that emphasize collaboration. For example, one of the most striking vocals on the album is on "Out Of My Head." But it isn't from Charli. It's from Swedish singer Tove Lo. Charli doesn't come in until the second verse.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUT OF MY HEAD")
TOVE LO: (Singing) Glitter in my sheets, dancing on no sleep - I don't learn, want to burn, want to turn all the way up, yeah. I don't learn, want to burn in the dirt till I'm out of luck, yeah - pills and potions and terrible things, heart on the floor when the telephone rings. All of the lies I just want to believe - drop all my morals. I just want to sin.
ALMA: (Singing) I'm out of my, out of my head - out of my head. Please get out of my, out of my, out of my, out of my head. Please get out of my, out of my, out of my head - out of my head. Please get out of my, out of my, out of my head - out of my head, out of my head.
TOVE LO: (Singing) Need you, need you, need you out - need you, need you, need you out.
CHARLI XCX: (Singing) Partying with my tears...
TUCKER: Another excellent example of generous collaboration is "I Got It," on which Charli shares vocals with three guest stars - Brooke Candy, Pabllo Vittar and the young Chicago rapper CupcakKe. It's CupcakKe's clever rap I want to call your attention to here. Her voice emerging from a multitrack chorus of high-pitched chants of, I got it, I got it, CupcakKe takes command.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I GOT IT")
CHARLI XCX: (Singing) I got it. I got it. I got it. I got it. I got it. I got it...
BROOKE CANDY: Miss CupcakKe is on this track. Have you heard her? Have you seen her?
CUPCAKKE: (Rapping) Got a couple of bitches that want my attention. They acting real vicious, but I'm not offended. They lurking like witnesses. Money I'm getting. Could drop an ice tray, and I still won't be slipping. Got another check coming in. Got a couple checks I ain't spend. Got fat pockets - need a gym. I made it possible like Kim. Today, I got great times...
TUCKER: If you enjoy CupcakKe's cuttingly precise rhythm and rhymes, I recommend her new album "Ephorize" featuring joyously sex-positive songs I definitely cannot play here. All is not happy fellowship on Charli XCX's collection, however. On the song "Lucky," a wash of electronic instruments and distorted vocals creates the kind of slow, serene surge we associate with hymns. Charli uses that sound to mourn the loss of a lover who's deceived her. With very quiet but firm hostility, she asks him whether he feels lucky to have hurt someone with so little apparent guilt.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCKY")
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Vocalizing).
CHARLI XCX: (Singing) Baby, you're so lucky. Baby, you're so lucky. You get away with it all. Baby, you're so lucky. And even though you got me, you still want it all. So can I ask you a question? Do you ever feel guilt for what you've done? Call you. You got no reception. You're breaking up. Tell you I believe you, but I don't.
TUCKER: Charli XCX, working with her frequent producer A.G. Cook, creates sonic landscapes in which vocals are vehicles that speed through dense thickets of clustered instruments, ricocheting off walls of sound. These compositions defy conventional verse-chorus-verse structure. But they're pop songs in the purest sense - elemental emotions set to music.
DAVIES: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed "Pop 2," the new album from Charli XCX. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan reviews the new book "The Perfect Nanny" based on a tragic real event. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.