Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Charli XCX, Rosalía, Bladee & Ecco2K, Midlake, Oso Oso

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

It seems the hype has caused many big releases to collapse under their own weight, leaving fanbases divided. Even so, there is a lot of great things to discover this week.

Charli XCX – CRASH
Released March 18, 2022

3 Globes out of 5

I have opened several of my reviews in the past by shooting myself in the foot right out of the gate, and this will be no different. Charli XCX has released two of the most acclaimed pop albums of the past few years with 2019’s “Charli” and 2020’s “How I’m Feeling Now.” I do not care for either of them. Despite being two incredibly received pop records, both do nothing for me. Even her mixtape “Pop 2” doesn’t stick with me like it does to many of my peers. I respect the genre defining and cultural landmark that was the “Vroom Vroom” EP, but even then I don’t adore it. When I heard some of the singles from “CRASH,” I thought that I was finally going to enjoy a full Charli album.

I was wrong. “CRASH” is a farewell album from both Charli’s old style as well as a sendoff of her leaving Atlantic Records. She has slipped away from the bubblegum bass and hyperpop for a more mainstream sound. In one fell swoop, she manages to alienate the majority of her audience with a record with little hit potential that will not gain her any new fans. She is of course at the point of stardom that she cannot fall out of the musical sphere of discussion and influence for many, many years to come, but this album is showing the turn of public opinion. Between the lukewarm reviews and Charli engaging in Twitter arguments with fans about the new direction, it can safely be said that reactions are divided.

In my opinion, the album is just fine. Most of it washes over me without a lasting impression, but some tracks do stand out. Singles “Good Ones” and “Beg For You” are earworms to the highest degree. “Good Ones” has this infectious beat alongside one of her most direct choruses. “Beg For You” features Rina Sawayama on the 2-step influenced track that is probably my favorite single she has done. Oddly enough, this one seems to be the one that is attracting the most hate. I adore it. The album has some other gems in the form of the vulgar synth funk of “Baby” to the humorous disco of “Yuck.”

Honestly, if Charli tried harder to copy the success of Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” like she did on these tracks then maybe the album would have fared better. Instead, tracks like “Every Rule” and “Move Me” drag the album down hard with boring balladry. Some tracks have exciting moments, such as the chorus of “Lightning,” but they are not enough to carry the album into any territory other than fine. Even if I didn’t like her previous albums, I at least understand the adoration for the aesthetics. Much of what fans love is gone here, with Charli left trying to fill in shoes that do not fit her.

Rosalía – Motomami
Art Pop
Released March 18, 2022

3.5 Globes out of 5

The other most anticipated release of the week comes with Rosalía’s third studio album “Motomami.” The Spanish singer started her solo career making flamenco nuevo before slowly shedding her acoustic folk roots for a more pop oriented sound. She has since become a huge pop star, garnering a rabid fanbase. Much like the Charli album, this one seems to generally be considered her weakest, but “Motomami” is a much better and more cohesive album than “CRASH.”

This album takes cues from neoperreo, an offshoot of the ever popular reggaetón movement. In general, a lot of these tracks just don’t do it for me. I understand the appeal of the genre, but as someone who isn’t really into club-based music, it comes off as vapid most of the time. Songs like “Chicken Teriyaki” and “Diablo” are downright grating. Thankfully, Rosalía has a spellbinding voice and is glowing with charisma elsewhere on the record. The opener “Saoko” is the best of the neoperreo tracks, with Rosalía’s flow weaving over the beat with expert precision, making this album opener absolutely electric.

The album lulls for a while until the sixth song, a gorgeous piano ballad with machine gun percussion with a title I don’t think I can explicitly mention in this review. “G3 N15” is similar, with Rosalía delivering some of her most powerful vocals over a spiritual organ that makes for a combo that is made in heaven. The title track is only a minute long, but is a lot of fun. Much of the album relies on shorter track lengths, and it is all the better for it. “Delirio de grandeza” is much more akin to Rosalía’s older work, as it is a bolero song. However, it features a hilarious Soulja Boy sample halfway through that works so well for some odd reason. “Cuuuuuuuuuute” is completely bonkers and is one of the most wild songs she has made yet. The following tracks fall off a bit, but closer “Sakura” is a tender way to end the album, with Rosalía singing almost unaccompanied to an arena full of people.

I’ve heard some people criticize the lyrics across “Motomami,” but seeing as I don’t speak Spanish, I don’t think it is my place to comment on how the lyrics flow despite seeing the translations. She put her heart into her performances on these songs, which is what makes this such a compelling listen. Even if it is easily her worst project to date, she is still one of the most interesting pop stars working.

Bladee & Ecco2K – Crest
Released March 17, 2022

4 Globes out of 5

Much of the material produced from the legendary Drain Gang has left me dry, with Ecco2k’s “E” from 2019 being the exception. However, Ecco2K joined fellow member Bladee for a collab album called “Crest,” which is arguably the best work either has been involved in yet.

For those uninitiated with the wave of cloud rap that has permeated the underground scene in the last decade, the dream-like hazy production has allured many newcomers to the style from all around the globe due to its heavily internet based aesthetic. Everyone from Playboi Carti to Yung Lean has hopped on to the trend, but Drain Gang are leading the charge. In many ways, “Crest” leans more towards full on pop, with neither Bladee or Ecco2K rapping. The production style is really the only thing to carry over from traditional cloud rap. Thankfully, both artists are great at using their voices as instruments both naturally and processed to convey the emotions of each track.

That being said, this is a surprisingly uplifting and spiritual album. “White Meadow” has some gorgeous progression and a chorus that smacks you across the face. “Yeses (Red Cross)” manages to use repetition at just the right amount to avoid annoyance. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” is not a cover, but instead is a gorgeous song about the conflict of wanting to be both forgotten and wanted by those around you. The monumental nine minute long “5 Star Crest (4 Vattenrum)” is an achievement in piecing together fragments of songs to make something truly cathartic. Bladee and Ecco2K keep everything simple and heartfelt lyrically across the album, making this a truly emotional listen.

If you weren’t convinced of the merits of Drain Gang before, you will be now.

Midlake – For The Sake Of Bethel Woods
Folk Rock
Released March 18, 2022

3.5 Globes out of 5

After a close to a decade of silence, mid 2000s folk rock band Midlake have released their fifth album. Despite the large gap, “For The Sake Of Bethel Woods” sounds like the logical evolution of the band’s sound had there only been a few years to wait.

While the band have only one true classic to their name with 2006’s “The Trials Of Van Occupanther,” they have been consistently good throughout their other albums. The band’s blend of folk with psychedelic indie rock has the listener feeling like they are walking in the woods and taking in all of the sites and sounds around them. “Bethel Woods” is a perfect thesis statement to the album’s sound. “Noble” is the most atmospheric and outright spacey song, making use of its length to meander on in a peaceful way. There are some more energetic cuts, such as “The End” with its fiery guitar work. However, the true highlights are “Feast Of Carrion” and “Gone” all thanks to the flute work that brings to mind the essence of pastoral songwriting.

Midlake returned to do what they do best. This album has barely even made a ripple when it dropped, and it is likely chalked up to how long it has been since the previous album. Had this come out earlier in their career, I’m sure more people would be drawn to it. While not groundbreaking, it is definitely something worth hearing at least once if you like any form of indie rock from the 2000s or are a fan of the band already.

Oso Oso – Sore Thumb
Indie Rock
Released March 18, 2022

3.5 Globes out of 5

If it weren’t for the earnest request of my dear roommate Dan Russo to review this album after I had alerted him of his existence, I don’t know if it would’ve taken my final review slot for the week. I am glad it did, because Oso Oso’s latest album is an enjoyable emo tinged slice of power pop.

“Sore Thumb” is not mindblowing. It won’t be your album of the summer or have you bawling your eyes out. But what it will have you do is nodding your head and making you think about attempting to try skating again. That last part might be influenced by the cover, but this album really does feel like it would be great music to do some sort of recreational lifetime sport in the sunny spring afternoon. If the opener “Computer Exploder” doesn’t make you wanna do a kickflip, then maybe the slower “Sunnyside” will have you strolling around alongside the warf like you are in your own indie feel good film of 2006. There are some amazing hooks to be found, especially the one in “Father Tracy.”

The album does have some rough spots in the production, both those intentional and accidental. The panning in “Give A Fork” particularly hurts my ears at points. Some songs also end abruptly, which is a fine decision when used sparingly, but it happens often enough on the record that it is noticeably distracting. “Nothing Says Love Like Hydration” is a lyrical double edged sword. On one hand, it is just a blatant ad for Gatorade. On the other hand, it reminds me of being a 7-year-old and eating fruit snacks and pounding a Gatorade in a few gulps. Nostalgia is a crazy thing.

Oso Oso might have not released their best album, but they sure released a fun one. Even if it doesn’t last the whole season, it is a great way to usher in the warmer months of the year.