Wednesday, August 9, 2017

CollXtion II | Allie X



Pulsating pop music is no longer made for the masses. As if that weren't already made clear enough by failed attempts to revive the genre's extraordinary popularity from the likes of Katy Perry, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani, it became most apparent when we as a society let the banger to end all bangers, Ariana Grande's "Into You," fizzle into oblivion last year but made her inferior follow-up, a little tropical house number called "Side to Side," ignite airwaves.

However, this also means that today's pop music is regarded as, well, kind of cool. Spears' latest album was one of her most lauded to date. The unexpected windstorm of success for Carly Rae Jepsen's trendsetting E•MO•TION has left her all but deified in the eyes of critics and Twitter fans alike. Grande and Selena Gomez are cooler with every breath, needing not to prove themselves with records that particularly conform to trends.

And now, viral pop and rock artists have begun to pull away from their roots and charge full-synth ahead. Most recently, Betty Who has left her lush synthpop behind for her biggest beats to date, and notorious alternative pop figurehead Halsey ignited her sophomore record with a sound that should flatter Rihanna – if imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, of course. Even Paramore, once famous for their angsty anthems, has jumped from their own lane and into the '80s-era pop carpool.

Singer-songwriter Allie X has been not above the movement, but rather at the forefront of it. Although masqueraded with melodramatic imagery and a strange public image, she has spent her short time in the industry on the dance floor, producing superbangers that belong in the clubs from behind a veil of Tumblr-certified personality. From her piercing voice to her heavy dance beats, she has stirred memories of the pitch-shifted europop that thrived around the turn of the millennium since her beginnings.

Her second set of work, CollXtion II, is the first album since Hilary Duff's Breathe In. Breathe Out. to open with a whistled chorus – an infectious space filler to some, a cardinal sin to others, and a sure sign of synthpop in its purest form to all. "Paper Love" throws that whistle over a sultry guitar line and electronic beat for optimal pop, kicking with bubbling energy in a humid soundscape. And from there until the very end, when "True Love is Violent" twists a piano ballad into a trap-tinged finale, the record never sleeps.

Between 2015's CollXtion I and now, Allie X released singles like party favors, promising they were part of a grander scheme for this album. In all, seven songs in demo form were released, three of which were carried to this set. Bombastic cuts "Old Habits Die Hard" and "That's So Us" were rerecorded and reproduced here, giving her synthesizers and vocals stronger, punchy impacts. Originally a piano demo, "Casanova" gets an overhaul, becoming a dancing '90s house anthem. Sorely missing, though, are cuts like "All the Rage" and "Too Much To Dream," solid tracks that could have been sewn into this record seamlessly.

Acting like a true pop star with fickle sonic tastes is all in the beauty of pop musicians' newfound allure, so Allie X follows the part: a myriad of influences bend her supercharged pop from one sound to the next, even if she sometimes has to step on others' toes. While "Simon Says" could feel at home in Melanie Martinez's playpen and "Paper Love" is a direct companion to Adam Lambert's "Ghost Town," these are comparisons that run close to Allie X's synthpop stomping grounds. It's the reggae-inspired "Lifted" that surprises with swagger during its two-stepping chorus.

But playing the same as a glossy, high-budget synthpop record from a major label artist, Collxtion II boasts more lavish and polished production than the rest of Allie X's back catalog. In fact, it feels like her first authentic attempt to be more successful than a flash in the pan on a streaming platform's "pop rising" playlist. Her lyrics take aim for the typical, like infatuation and betrayal, and she has learned to craft a spellbinding chorus without shouting over balls-to-the-wall instrumental bursts, like on the vocoder-laden "Need You." In short, it seems she has grown into the supersized sonic world in which she resides, finally feeling right at home.

CollXtion II is available now under Sleepless Records.

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