Review Explosion Fall/Winter 2019: Charli XCX, JPEGMAFIA, The Who, Beck, & More

Charli XCX - Charli

Produced by: A.G. Cook and Charli XCX (executive)
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Various
Mastered by: Various

Music: 9
Sound: 7

On her latest proper album Charli, British pop star Charli XCX creates a work that epitomizes, with an artsy bend, all of 2010’s pop music’s hallmarks. Blown out, hyper-compressed production, glistening synths, giant drum machines, and digitally-stressed vocals are in abundance on Charli, yet the choices that she and executive producer A.G. Cook (known for running the PC Music label) make often surprise the listener. Following the relatively normal and upbeat Troye Sivan-featuring “1999” (no relation to the iconic Prince song, but Charli’s track holds its own) comes “Click,” which thanks to Dylan Brady’s production, in the last third takes a noisy, abrasive left turn. Similarly, Cook and Lotus IV anchor “Cross You Out” with a warped synth bass that oscillates in and out of tune, with other electronic sounds unexpectedly popping out. Structurally and stylistically overall, Charli’s songs aren’t out of the ordinary, but the utterly weird production twists and high execution quality make it truly special. If you’re not yet convinced, listen to “Shake It,” whose experimental vocal processing, minimalist beat, and features (CupcakKe on a pop song?!?!) wouldn’t come from any other current pop artist (although Charli’s underwhelming early-career sales freed her from prioritizing commercial success). “White Mercedes” is simple pop perfection: its melody reminds me of another song that I irritatingly can’t recall, and backed by tight production its lyrics detail an on/off romantic relationship and the associated longing, self-doubt, and self-medication. “Gone,” about lovers who turn their backs against one who afterwards falls into depression and alcoholism, perfectly sums up Charli: the grooves are simply so catchy that it actually takes effort to focus on the often emotionally dense, sometimes indirect lyrics. When the kids of 2040 ask about 2010’s pop music, this record will be considered the ultimate document.

JPEGMAFIA - All My Heroes Are Cornballs

Produced by: JPEGMAFIA
Engineered by: JPEGMAFIA
Mixed by: JPEGMAFIA
Mastered by: JPEGMAFIA

Music: 9
Sound: 6

“You think you know me,” but we really don’t. A year after his breakout success Veteran (Deathbomb Arc DBA 189 cassette, vinyl, and download), experimental Baltimore noise rapper JPEGMAFIA returned this September with All My Heroes Are Cornballs, a 45-minute collection of abstract, mostly fragmented musical ideas. He jumps from one idea to the next within seconds, never allowing his audience to grasp his artistic identity - does he even have a comprehendible artistic and stylistic identity? Like many albums of its type, most of AMHAC’s songs have little form, acting more like a series of sketches rather than a finished painting exhibit. The addictive opener and lead single “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” serves as a display of Peggy’s versatility; it’s at turns angry and satirical, noisy and melodic. After the first few tracks, Cornballs turns into an ideas showcase rather than a conventional “album” of “songs” but in this music consumption age, does it matter? Do people actually pay more attention with less structure? JPEGMAFIA, whether or not he thinks about these questions, consistently challenges listeners. “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot,” much like Kanye’s Yeezus opener “On Sight,” opens with a barrage of pure noise - you aren’t just entering any album, you’re entering a work that from the very beginning tests your patience. All My Heroes Are Cornballs, while not as immediately explosive, is far more nuanced and melodic than Veteran. It accurately defines current experimental hip-hop’s beautiful mess of ideas, an artistic method unlikely to fade any time soon.

GFOTY - GFOTV

All credits unknown

Music: 0
Sound: 4

As more experimental, fragmented music (JPEGMAFIA, recent Earl, Jack Stauber’s Micropop, etc) slowly attracts increasing attention, so does the terrible “music” masquerading as high-level “art.” Such is the case for “synthpop” “artist” GFOTY (an abbreviation of the name Girlfriend Of The Year), a full-grown British woman whose latest “album,” GFOTV, lasts a mere 11 songs over 12 minutes. The reason I note that she’s a full-grown woman is because GFOTV’s “songs” sound as if written by a 6-year-old fantasizing about high school love (and Spongebob). It tries to trick the listener into thinking that it’s a minimalist masterpiece for the ages, but fails spectacularly; instead, it’s really a lazily thrown-together collection of eighth-finished ideas with bright, childish keyboards that quickly grate. Save for the excruciating four and a half-minute closer “Goodnite,” GFOTV’s “songs” mostly range from 30-60 seconds in length, segueing into each other as GFOTY continues to irritate the poor listener. After suffering through GFOTV, all I can hope for is that a) it doesn’t make a lasting impact, as if it does, music will suffer an artistic crisis, and b) that I never have to hear of GFOTY ever again.

Beck - Hyperspace

Produced by: Various
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Various
Mastered by: Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound

Music: 3
Sound: 5

Middle-age divorce records are often, at the very least, interesting, and at best, result in a true masterpiece (see Blood On The Tracks). Beck’s latest outing, November’s Hyperspace, comes months after a divorce that nobody cared about, and with this LP, Beck doesn’t give you any reason to care. Despite teaming up with Pharrell for a couple of trap-pop highlights, even with its short length most of Hyperspace is of current pop trends an instantly forgettable misuse. As I write this at 2AM, all I can say is that I’m tired of hearing terrible mid-life crisis records every two weeks. I won’t waste my time writing in-depth about it, so why waste yours listening?

Harry Styles - Fine Line

Produced by: Various
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Mark “Spike” Stent
Mastered by: Randy Merrill at Sterling Sound

Music: 5
Sound: 6

Following One Direction’s dissolution a few years ago, all of its members went onto solo endeavors, the most critically respected of which are Harry Styles’ albums. Instead of continuing on the path of overproduced, annoying boyband pop fodder, Styles is obviously trying to make something of greater substance; his two solo records lean towards still squeaky clean soft pop rock with a psychedelic tinge (he actually did shrooms during Fine Line’s recording). He described Fine Line as a record “all about having sex and feeling sad;” there are many far better records fitting that criteria, but this LP isn’t bad. It’s nothing special that’s worth repeatedly listening to with limited time, but it’s nowhere near unbearable. Overall, I’m mostly indifferent about it.

The Who - WHO (Deluxe)

Produced by: Pete Townshend, Dave Sardy, Bob Pridden, and Dave Eringa
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Dave Sardy
Mastered by: Stephen Marcussen

Music: 4
Sound: 6

For their first new album in 13 years, the shell of a band masquerading as The Who (while Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are essential members, the late John Entwhisle and Keith Moon truly made The Who) during the recording process didn’t even interact with each other. That’s right: Daltrey and Townshend, who are on fragile terms, have their own personal producers through whom they communicate, record in separate studios, stay at different hotels, and during concerts never make eye contact. Considering the above, who even wants any new music, whether live or in the studio, from The Who? Themselves only, I assume. While Daltrey called the band’s new lazily-titled WHO their best album since 1973’s Quadrophenia (anything to promote this new record, I guess), I can only say that it’s their best album in 13 years, because, well, that’s when they last released a record. If The Who By Numbers wasn’t already the title of their 1975 LP, for this one it would be a fitting name. Essentially, it sounds like someone else’s uninvited grandpa growling about their old age, current politics and how you’re gonna hate this song yet they don’t give a fuck (their words) for one hour. Why pay money for that when I can get it at a nursing home for free? Due to the factory-assembly digital approach to recording the LP, despite the great backing musicians (including Ringo’s son Zak Starkey, Joey Waronker, and Autolux’s Carla Azar on drums; as well as bassists Pino Palladino and Gus Seyffert) this batch of uninspired songs has an artificial, overly clean sound that sucks out the little energy the songs began with.

Some old artists just don’t know when to stop. The Who should’ve stopped 15 years ago; as a musical act, they simply don’t have the personal dynamics and passion to keep going. Please retire.

COMMENTS
adw's picture

Well said, Malachi. This one's disposable. It's terribly sad to hear that they can't abide one another. I've also auditioned it and find it forgettable. The original canon, in contrast, with Keith and John right where they belong, most certainly is not; nor is Pete's comparatively ancient solo work. How brilliant, and marvelously recorded, were the orchestral tracks on Tommy, for instance. Timeless.

Anton D's picture

Thanks for the flow of reviews!

Regarding The Who album: Pate has pointed out that these songs will sound better in ten years. (I thought that was a hilarious response to Roger's saying he didn't really like the songs.)

I was totally unaware of GFOTY and gave it a listen. I then suppressed the memory of it and will be steadfast in remaining unaware of that 'album.' By the way, I think the cover is an ICP pun that's too racy to post.

I have always found Beck's naif schtick a little off putting, and you nailed his "thousand yard stare" routine for this 'divorce album.'

My wife and I are big CharlieXCX fans, we both agree with you!

Thanks for including JPEGMAFIA...it should be a fine trigger for certain audiophiles to rant about the fall of western culture and the advance of secular humanism and what-not!

Happy solstice and new year to you, you add much value and joy to the hobby!!!

PAR's picture

I guess that you aren't British. GFOTY is ( sounds like I should add: unfortunately). If you were and of a certain age ( over 30) then you would immediately recognise it as the BBC television test card that was shown for years and years during tranmission down time. Here is a link:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Test_Card_F

PAR's picture

I meant a pastiche of the BBC test card.

Narayan's picture

Whilst I don´t share your enthusiasm for Charli XCX or JPEG Mafia, I think you nailed the rest of your opinions and despite your warning I inflicted part of some songs upon myself. That GFOTY lady should go to prison for Grevious Aural Harm, hate crimes and in my case animal cruelty, you have to hate humanity to put out a record like that.

The "White Mercedes" song reminds me of Lady Gaga singing "Shallow" in "A Star Is Born".

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

Charli XCX is dire and I think the new Who album is great. Maybe shows my age but crap autotune is what it is and good rock by an old band like the who is rare these days. Like you style Malachi but not your musical taste!

MalachiLui's picture

from what I can hear on the studio record, it sounds like she's a decent singer vocally who, like many, just uses autotune as an effect. even with autotune turned on I can instantly tell the difference between an actually good singer and a terrible one, and Charli sounds decent. I just think that record's great because of how accurately it sums up this decade's pop music, while still having extremely out-there ideas (just listen to "Click," which like I described turns to noise at the end). I do enjoy good rock music by older bands but I just think that great late-career albums from boomer rock artists are few and far between (the only ones that I really like are Blackstar and Post Pop Depression IIRC). I think the issue is that some ppl just don't know when to call it quits... and when they do, they really need to go out with a bang.

J. Carter's picture

I own and have listened to The Who, Beck and Charlie XCX albums.

The Charlie XCX album was an album I was really looking forward to as I loved Sucker but I have to admit I was a little disappointed. It was better than her EPs that she released between Sucker and this but still not at the same level in my opinion.

The Beck album is one I mostly agree with you on. I loved his first few albums but his releases over the past 15 years or so have been a disappointment for me. His first few albums were fun and inventive and then he became depressing and boring in my opinion. This one is no different for me. I wouldn't go as far as saying the album (or his previous several albums) are bad but they just aren't anywhere near as good as his early work.

Your opinion of the new Who album is pretty similar to mine although I have never been a huge Who fan I have loved many of their songs and some of their albums. This one just doesn't do much for me.

gmeese34's picture

Charli is one of my favorite records of the year. "White Mercedes" is amazing, as you noted. Curious to hear your thoughts on other big albums this year such as Pang, All Mirrors, Titanic Rising, and Magdalene

MalachiLui's picture

haven't heard Pang (didn't even know about it), love All Mirrors (2nd best album of the year behind IGOR obviously) and have the clear vinyl, love Titanic Rising (top 5 of the year) and have the LP, and Magdalene didn't make a huge impression on me from the first few tracks but ppl whose opinions I trust told me that I should listen again so I'll do that when I find time.

gmeese34's picture

Thanks for your quick thoughts. Pang is by Caroline Polachek, I think you'd enjoy it based on your thoughts on those other records. It's partially like Charli with some Kate Bush influence. Magdalene is my #2 behind Igor

analogdw's picture

Could not disagree with you more on the Beck album Malachi. Putting aside the music score, which is of course subjective (I'd give it an 8 myself), the sound quality on this LP is excellent. Did you actually listen to the vinyl? It sounds very good for a modern pop record. I'd give the sound an 8 too.

As a fan of Beck's recent releases, this is a great album IMO, both musically and sonically.

MalachiLui's picture

didn't get the LP, only heard the MQA files to knock this review out of the way. i think the highs (first 3 tracks) are better than what's on Colors but the lows are A LOT lower. Morning Phase, even tho it's a low-effort Sea Change rehash, is still far better than both Colors and Hyperspace.

also, the sound was just kinda average IMO but not necessarily terrible.

analogdw's picture

OK well I can vouch for the sound quality of the vinyl. It's really good.

Malachi, I do appreciate your reviews - please keep them coming. But I think you are doing the readership a disservice by not even mentioning the medium you're listening on. And if you're going to continue to base your reviews on non-vinyl media, I really think that the site should be renamed to Music Planet. Seriously.

MalachiLui's picture

unless specified otherwise, all things covered in Review Explosions come from digital files. that's a main reason i didn't mention anything about the sound in the actual reviews and only included a score. the albums i wrote about in this one for the most part sound just about as good as you'd expect them to.

xtcfan80's picture

Indeed ....After the sad Stuper Bowl performance a few years ago The Who should have retired before the post-game show....

MalachiLui's picture

that's really when they should've retired. if half of the band is gone, then that's DEFINITELY time to call it quits.

atomlow's picture

I'd like a little more meat to these reviews. The sound quality seems to be picked out of the air just like the rating on the music. Reviewing music has to go deeper than this.

MalachiLui's picture

review explosions are supposed to be short reviews that aren't as detailed as standalone reviews. didn't really talk about the sound quality in this one (the albums sound just about as good as you'd expect for what they are) and you can tell that as far as the music scores go, it's based on how I feel about the albums. in the respective reviews, you can easily tell if I like or don't like something based on my writing voice/word choice. I shouldn't have to explain this but it doesn't seem like enough of you have read the other (also great and informative) review explosions.

analogdw's picture

I’ll pass on this whole “review explosion” thing. IMO its an insult to the effort the artists have put into these albums to put this little effort into these reviews . Sorry Malachi but I am finding your posts on this site more and more offensive. I’m sure there’s an audience out there for your perspective but is it really on this site? I thought Michael hired you for your love and appreciation of vinyl. Instead we are getting crappy reviews of digital streams...

MalachiLui's picture

the whole idea behind the Review Explosion thing is that since I don't have time to give full reviews to everything, I can do short reviews of albums, whether I like them or not. it's kinda like Fantano's YUNOREVIEW segments except with more important releases. I do put effort into these reviews (as evident by the Charli, Peggy, and GFOTY reviews) even if they're not full-length articles. how are my posts on here becoming anywhere near offensive?

yes, I was hired to write about appreciation for vinyl (which I do more often than you think) but at the end of the day, it's about the music. doesn't matter what format, the music reigns in importance. also consider that All My Heroes Are Cornballs hasn't come out on vinyl yet and GFOTV doesn't and should never exist on vinyl. and do you really wxpect me to spend $120 out of pocket to get vinyl copies for all of these albums (many of which in these features I don't even like very much) just so I can give you 2 sentences on how each record sounds? if labels would send me vinyl promos of everything I'd be all for it but go talk to Universal, Warner, and Sony as well as every indie label that needs to save every last cent to make ends meet (meaning "why send out a vinyl promo when we can just hand you the digital file?"). I don't even get digital promos of anything. so the fact that you expect vinyl reviews for (mostly) extremely mediocre albums just shows general ignorance on how the industry as a whole works now.

I don't get why you're just realizing this review explosion feature exists, as I did two other great ones (the first one talking about BROCKHAMPTON, Post Malone, Olivia Jean, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie; the other about Earl, Tool, Rex Orange County, and Liam Gallagher) recently. I guess a new Who album is the only way to lure boomers in here... sad.

Jim Tavegia's picture

It is time to move on from this article and the art work. It is like a bunch of 12 year old boys who found an issue of Playboy in their uncle's garage.

analogdw's picture

No need for insults. I’m not a “boomer” anyway (born in 75) and I don’t like The Who. What I do like is what I used to read on this site, thoughtful reviews of vinyl releases. Looks like I’ll need to look elsewhere for those now. I really don’t understand what Fremer is doing having you on this site. I’m sure the primary audience is my age and older.

tysharp's picture

Nah, Malachi. The Who album is solid and welcome for longtime Who fans. Is it gonna sound like The Who circa 1975? No and I wouldn’t expect it to. They sound pretty good for a 74 and 75 year old. Let’s see if some of the artists you rave about (Tyler the Creator, etc.) are around in 50 years and making quality music. Doubtful. BTW, the Beck album is good too. And I’m a youngster.

MalachiLui's picture

The Who has already had to age 50 years so in 50 years, Tyler's music will still sound more current than The Who's because it's still 50 years newer. further, while The Who enjoyed plenty of success in their prime (and rightfully so bc they released a few great albums before fizzling out in 1973), I don't really hear much of their distinct influence on rock of the 70s and 80s. Tyler's musical influence is already felt in BROCKHAMPTON (their sound is original but still heavily inspired by OFWGKTA), Jaden Smith (who literally tries to rip off Tyler), Billie Eilish, and many others. my point is that artists who have more influence generally hold up better in the long run.

Robcos02330's picture

I can’t take this “review explosion” seriously. I’m no boomer, but giving Charlie XCX a 9 for music and knocking The Who as has beens.....is laughable. The Who and Beck both will last another 50 years beyond the rest of the “artists” you mentioned. The worst Who record is miles ahead of Charlie XCX. Ridiculous.

MalachiLui's picture

and if you don't trust my opinion, check out the other reviews for the Charli record. scores are 7/10 and up, and Fantano also gave it a 9 and named it best album of 2019. not that I'm justifying my opinion using others' opinions, rather just letting you know that I'm not alone in enjoying that album. will Charli's music still sound extremely fresh in 50 years? probably not, but it perfectly encapsulates current pop music (and probably that of the next few years) and will be looked at in 50 years as an example of the 2010's sound. then again, much of The Who's older stuff hasn't aged the best. some music from the 60s and 70s still sounds current/futuristic (particularly avant-garde jazz and art rock), but regular straight up rock with nothing too interesting about it mostly sounds outdated. sorry to break it to you.

also, All My Heroes Are Cornballs perfectly documents the digital age and will also hold up AT LEAST as a historical document (if not still an amazing album) in 50 years. some of Beck's albums will make it 50 years (particularly his 96-02 run) but his last few records already sound dated and not in a way of "this defines this time period" like Charli or JPEGMAFIA. and again, it doesn't seem like you read my last couple review explosions either so for your convenience we have them all in one place: https://www.analogplanet.com/category/review-explosion

Robcos02330's picture

“then again, much of The Who's older stuff hasn't aged the best. some music from the 60s and 70s still sounds current/futuristic (particularly avant-garde jazz and art rock), but regular straight up rock with nothing too interesting about it mostly sounds outdated. sorry to break it to you.“

Hahahahaha oh boy. Yes you are indeed showing your age. All good. Enjoy your autotune.

Chemguy's picture

...like a petulant child that is not getting his way when people disagree with his analyses. As a critic, Malachi, put it out there and then leave it alone. You don’t have to justify your taste. But you do have to accept that there are people who may disagree with you for good reason.

gmeese34's picture

Many on here are complaining about the "review explosion" format, not just a difference of opinion of the music. Regardless, these "disagreements" coming from the boomers are hardly constructively critical; rather they are closed minded, petty, and many times rooted in fallacy. New music doesn't suck because it's by a new artist, and new records from old artists aren't automatically great because they put out great stuff decades ago. Respect to Malachi defending his work in this hornets nest of a comment section.

Chemguy's picture

Malachi need not defend a stricture that has been imposed on him. Just do your job and move on.

Your targeted "boomer" comment belies a distaste in showing respect for the criticism of the experienced audiophile/music lover.

gmeese34's picture

I do have a distaste in showing respect for criticism of "experienced audiophiles/music lovers" in this specific situation, seeing that their "criticism" is hardly thought provoking or meaningful. Good criticism is good criticism regardless of where it comes from; older audiophile's need not be given "respect" of criticism solely based on their experience, but, rather, the quality and integrity of their criticism. I have seen little if any quality criticism in this thread, so I empathize with Malachi's frustrations. Conversely, younger audiophiles such as Malachi need not be dismissed solely based on their relative inexperience, but maybe should be "respected" due to their fresh perspective, hard work, and intelligent criticism of a wide array of genres.

Regarding your thoughts on Malachi defending himself, I agree that it would have been fine if he just let this whole thread go without any comment. However, I find it equally fine for him to defend himself, and to belittle him as a "petulant child" for doing just that is out of line. I expect you would not have done the same for Fremer had he defended himself in the comment section (as he often does). Forgive me if you feel I'm picking on you alone - there are many in this thread I could have singled out, you just happened to have the most recent comment.

Chemguy's picture

...this is not a one-off for Malachi. He continues to exhibit a lack of respect in his writings. His inexperience in all things is glaring and, at times, obnoxious.

He has been petulant. He is barely a teenager, as well. I'm not belittling him, I'm calling it like it is.

Good for you in defending him. Bad for you to consider his inexperienced criticism as something approaching journalism. He should be learning, not instructing.

Tom L's picture

I find that some of the "adults" here are acting more "childishly sulky or bad-tempered" than Malachi. Much more, especially considering that age is supposed to help in developing wisdom and perspective. He sounds his age, which seems appropriate, and certain adults sound like they got stuck in their early teens permanently.
Knocking someone because of their chronological age is a cheap shot anyway. Doesn't anyone else remember having your opinions disregarded just because of your youth, even if you turned out to be 100% right? If you disagree with his reviews that's totally fine, I often do, but that's no reason to attack him personally. It makes you look petty and immature yourself.

Tom L's picture

I enjoy Malachi's reviews, no matter the length or medium, because they give me some perspective on the music that is completely different from my own. I can't help my age and background, and neither can he. I'll never listen to some of the stuff he likes, but it's all fun to read and helps me keep up with current trends.
Some of the posters here sound like petulant little kids who demand that the site conform to their own prejudices. To me, Malachi's input broadens the appeal and usefulness of Analog Planet, while Fremer continues his mission to keep the analog force strong.
Keep up the good work.

tbromgard's picture

Your statement "regular straight up rock with nothing too interesting about it mostly sounds outdated. sorry to break it to you" is judgmental and pejorative. I like straight up rock and roll. I hope I don't read more comments like this in the future. Cheers-

ChrisM's picture

I miss more positive reviews.
As an audiophile I don't need to be informed about bad music, I know that I'm surrounded from it, the exception is hard to find : good records, that's what I'm looking for here.

MalachiLui's picture

as a music critic, my job is to give honest opinions about popular/significant/interesting releases. sometimes those albums are really bad other times they're great. and as an audiophile, wouldn't you want to know which albums to stay away from instead of blindly wasting $30 on one of these?

we still cover great music more than mediocre/bad albums, except the great albums might be a bit outside of some readers' close-minded musical boundaries. so just look thru what I've reviewed and you'll find many great albums discussed. there are even positive reviews in this review explosion.

ChrisM's picture

I would certainly like to know from which albums one should stay away, but especially from those that falsely claim to be "audiophile", or "all analogue". That would save me money !

tbromgard's picture

why say "some readers' close-minded musical boundaries?" Are you trying to educate or agitate readers?

Bigmule1972's picture

Maybe its just an age gap issue....and please understand that’s not meant to be an insult in anyway.

Just more of a timing of life perspective. For instance, years ago, there were many songs I interpreted differently when I was younger, but as I age, songs reveal a whole new meaning. Personally experiencing building a family, maintaining a career, love, depression, addiction, and death impact how I perceive life as I grow older.

I recommend another listen to “Everlasting Nothing”....its a wonderful song. I agree that I wasn’t wow’d at first listen of Hyperspace, but the more I listen to it, the more I believe it is masterful music, and a great representation of what “pop” music should strive for. I own the basic vinyl release, but haven’t listened to it much as I travel extensively for work, so I’ve spent more time with the digital version. Usually Beck provides a great vinyl experience.

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