Thursday, February 27, 2020

Review: Cape God • Allie X

As we navigate a new era in Hollywood, the element of popularity has been lifted from a pop star’s position description. New musicians are plucked from short-form lip-sync videos; established musicians decided their talents would be better utilized in the beauty and intimate clothing industries. Because popularity can be viewed more often as a novelty than a sustainable lifestyle today, musicians have become more reliant on a sworn allegiance from a target audience. Needing not worry about mainstream sustainability, pop stars can concern themselves with only their flamboyant concepts and supercharged anthems.

Nobody knows this better than Allie X. Under a decade ago, she abandoned her attempts to become an independent artist under her given name in her native Canada to become a pop songwriter in Los Angeles. She arrived in the United States around the time that the celebrity paradigm shift had just begun, and she enjoyed a boost from Katy Perry, who was in her prime with the public at large, when she released “Catch.” The single, her first as Allie X, was predestined for viral success – and foreshadowed what was to come. Since then, she has grown into the masterclass of playlist-era pop stars.

Allie’s last record, Super Sunset, was the full package. As a reflection of celebrity culture itself, it was the perfect display of arms: Concept songwriting and video treatments, flashy outfits, the works. It exemplified what it meant to be classically popular — and her newest release is its direct anthesis. In part triggered by a cable documentary on heroin addiction and recovery, Cape God hops from the West Coast excess to foggy Atlantic solace: From the eery twinkles throughout album highlight “Fresh Laundry” to the waterfalls of groggy vocal runs on “Love Me Wrong,” the songwriting runs a bit colder and darker – without sacrificing effortless hooks – as Allie digs inward to define what it means to be an outsider.

There are fewer uncontrollably celebratory moments on Cape God than expected for an Allie X record, considering others in her catalog were lodged in overdrive. Instead, it is an exercise in malleability – and understandably so, given the album’s inspiration. For as well as she bounces atop a ‘90s Eurohouse underbelly on runaway plea “Sarah Come Home,” she can also sport a funky little bass groove on “Rings a Bell.” When Mitski joins the record for the smooth little number “Susie Save Your Love,” she and Allie melt together with an unrequited love for a best friend. Oh, and we learn that she can pull off Kesha-patented sing-talking: “Super Duper Party People” – dedicated to the messy art of a major rager – gets most of its attitude from spoken verses.

“And I’m outside, ah-ha. Oh, what a feeling, hanging off a building with the regulars,” she exclaims on “Regulars,” indisputably the record’s apex and mission statement. Though the underwhelming “Devil I Know” before it capitalizes on contemporary hit radio appeal and falls flat, “Regulars” employs a trendy thick bass and stressed guitar in the best fashion possible. And unlike something like “June Gloom,” a punchy enabler to a depressive episode, it happily waves the white flag in the fight to join the masses: Life isn't so bad as an outsider, it proclaims. The regulars are overrated, anyway.

Cape God is available now under Twin Music.

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