There exists a bit of a trope in music that deals with the haunting wails of a generously ranged vocalist singing over blackened synths, eerie atmospherics, and those tell-tale drum machine claps. A few names immediately come to mind: Lykke Li, Phantogram, Lapsley, etc. Every one of them very much different than the other, but the bewitching female vocalist laid over some choice beats and rhythmics might as well be its own genre by now. But it’s probably too disingenuous to those artists to even sarcastically suggest a collective genre for them–maybe a themed playlist or mixed-CD would be more appropriate? If that’s more your speed then in the process of creating said collection of slick tunes you’d better include the wickedly spellbinding debut Careless People by Charlotte OC.
An album that was a long time coming, Charlotte’s career began with a four-album record deal with Columbia and was cut short when she was dropped after the first album. Relocating to Berlin and doing a little soul searching in the city’s lush techno underbelly, Charlotte emerged with a reignited fire in her belly and newfound inspiration for her own music. Taken from a famous line in “The Great Gatsby,” Careless People is a betrayingly intimate and at times poetic account of the collateral recklessness that people toss around, inflicting their negligent damage on those around them. Destined to be more than just your average edgy pop star, Charlotte opens her album with the desperation bleeding “Black Out,” flinging her gorgeous lull towards the distant horizon of the song’s sparse soundscape. Yearning for a new beginning, the album opens up with what feels like a shouted goodbye at a bleak sunset–but even the melancholy is a conflicted emotion. On the more anthemic “Darkest Hour,” Charlotte digs her hopeful shouts into your skin in an attempt to drag you to your feet; while a few finger snaps into “River,” the young singer shows off her R&B chops, swaying and winding herself around a charming melody that spirits you out of the darkness with its synth twinkling.
Caught in a cycle of being hurt, hiding, and healing, Charlotte doesn’t just wear the collateral damage of the album’s titular careless people on her sleeve, she’s inhaled it, let it saturate her until every exhales tastes of it. In “Medicine Man” a confusion of ecstasy with salvation plagues her until need becomes an addiction, bouncing around her pleas against the stormy thunderings of percussion driven electronica. “Shell” is the album’s breakout moment, overlaying the soulfulness of Charlotte’s howling with the beautiful sorcery of her own backing vocals, carrying the aching weight of her confessional on the strength of her own voice. Accompanied by dutiful atmospherics that rumble around her, Charlotte doesn’t rely on the overwhelming quaking of her minimalist instrumentals; like any good ballad, the emotional electricity comes from the singer’s lyrics and their delivery, and in that respect, she’s a lightning storm. Again, on “Choice,” Charlotte is joined by a few strings but takes the song to a hurricane’s crescendo, leaving the downpour in a pool of blood and tears, you can feel the exasperation in her words like it’s a cold rain splashing your cheek. It’s also in this moment that Charlotte almost emulates the alchemy of Romy Croft in transforming the auditory into kinetic and tactile forces; it’s her voice that pules the ballad forward, that leaves your mouth slightly agape as you sit in your stupor.
In its final moments, Careless People tosses a few upbeat surprises, including the sublime “Running Back To You,” which leaps and bounds with its delightful melody of devotion. “I Want Your Love” pays slight homage to Charlotte’s techno fascinations in brief reprise, but the last moments of the album are reserved for two final ballads that seek to reconcile the collateral nature of herself and those around her (“Where It Stays,” “In Paris”). Starkly strained and drained in the emotional acrobatics needed to navigate other people’s recklessness–and even her own–Charlotte manages to retain a complexity of her own that has her not just saying how she feels and conjuring up a few trite images in the process, but in leaving the deeply personal unfiltered, she’s all the more relatable in the process.
Words: Steven Ward