The discography of U.K. pop princess Charli XCX has maneuvered steadily between the lacerating club bangers that scored the era of floral skater skirts and the early aughts of Instagram, to the hors d’oeuvre-size hyperpop sound bites that dominate TikTok. If there’s one thing that the past decade has taught us, it’s that she truly can do it all.
Not only that — she seems to only get better. After dropping her digital ennui-suffused magnum opus, How I’m Feeling Now, last May, and the infernal dancey single “Good Ones” in September, Charli has stirred a maelstrom of excitement surrounding her next full-length project. Now it seems the new era of Charli XCX is upon us — she announced the release of her newest record, Crash and a set of 2022 tour dates on Thursday and dropped the album’s next single: “New Shapes.”
The track is a matured musical statement from Charli, ditching some of the unvarnished spasticity of her previous endeavors for symphonic corporeality, akin to something off of Pang, Caroline Polachek’s baroque and highly experimental 2019 LP. Additionally, both are featured on French singer, Christine and the Queens’ 2020 album La Vita Nuova. Sonically, “New Shapes” feels authentic to all three members of the trio, giving rise to a synthetic and lush soundscape of abject interiority.
We received a taster of this candidly wrought emotion on “Good Ones,” but it is even more pronounced here. “Yeah, I’m dive bar-ing again and again/ Trying to get up close to you” Polachek sings in her ubiquitous modulated vibrato. Pang (and to a lesser extent, How I’m Feeling Now) brims with these kinds of declarations and moments of stark acquiescence. Here the track figures similar fulcrums of capitulation: “I surrender to it all night, all day/ Then wе fall in love in new shapes.”
Thrumming with liberal use of heavy synths and consistent dancehall beat, energy ripples through the fabric of “New Shapes.” Despite this, the track mirrors the restrained nature of “Good Ones” — it’s a miasma rather than an eruption. At least, that is the case instrumentally, where glimmers of hope speckle the surface of what is largely a fatalistic tone. Such is the case in Chris’ verse: “What if I created places for you to let go?” The refrain is oddly debasing when situated within the context of jilted, mercurial romance, but nevertheless anchors it to a place of radical vulnerability.
“New Shapes,” while not strictly a departure from Charli’s storied hyperpop, PC Music-adjacent sound, is more closely aligned with tempered synth-pop. It latches onto an optimized aesthetic that makes it conducive to dancing clad in a sweaty, sequin mini dress one minute — the next sobbing in the corner.
The track — in its assemblage of euphoric synths and digital dings that texturize a deeply overwrought emotional landscape — is almost too streamlined, too polished. It’s rough around the edges, but only in a tonal sense. Considering the lyrical overlap with “Good Ones,” it is evident that Charli is fixated on notions of entrapment and self-sabotage, viewed through the aperture of a paradoxically introspective popstar.
Poised to enter a new epoch of Charli XCX, “New Shapes” is a testament to how far she has come since the days of the disconcerting “Boom Clap”-scored Amsterdam montage in “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s also, hopefully, an indicator of what potential is still yet to be tapped.