TUA’s best release of 2013 may come as a surprise (like my 2012 pick), but it’s definitely well-deserved for the 21-year-old singer-songwriter. Charli XCX’s ‘True Romance’ is a modernized take of a 90s pop star’s coming-of-age work. The songs are each filled with grade-A songwriting and stellar arrangements, heralded by only Charli’s soft-spoken vocals. Fourth single “You (Ha Ha Ha)” was the first to receive stateside airplay, thanks to an endorsement from Evelyn Lozada on VH1’s ‘Basketball Wives’.
Charli’s signature has become the art of spoken rap, a genre that many pop stars have delved into with their latest albums (see Katy Perry’s “This Is How We Do”, Miley Cyrus’ “SMS”). The difference with Charli is that it comes off effortless and as if she was born to rap (instead of sing). Her spoken rap greatness is particularly special on the Blood Diamonds-produced “Grins”, which boasts a subtle mix of spoken and sung vocals that are perfectly crafted.
Despite its large number, ‘True Romance’ pulls from a lot of great pop influences and makes the album the best of the best. There’s a hint of Santigold on the dreamy “Nuclear Seasons”, a sprinkle of Lily Allen on “What I Like”, and even a little Jessie Ware on “So Far Away”. But the clear album standout (along with “Grins”) is “How Can I”. With its dark production and moody songwriting, Charli crafts the song in a way that makes it strangely radio- and anti-radio friendly. In all, Charli’s second album is a solid, strong release that competes with Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus for the most creative pop release of 2013.