Toronto Star

Rowdy ladies and a taut low-budget horror chiller


This week: Sassy lassies! Xs and Hexes! The threat of violence!

Charli XCX, Sucker (Atlantic/ Warner). My girlfriend jokes that my private listening habits often mirror those of a teenage girl and, given the abundance of top-shelf femme-pop going around at the moment, I must confess that occasional­ly I wish I was. It seems like a good time to be a pouty 15-year-old female who wants nothing to do with One Direction yet still keeps an ear cocked in bubblegum’s direction. Lady Gaga, Robyn, Lorde, Lights, Lowell, Icona Pop — these are all women dashing the long-dominant “Britney” model of contempora­ry girly-pop stardom to pieces whilst simultaneo­usly refusing to play it too cool for the charts.

That said, Charli XCX’s wicked 2013 major-label debut, True Romance, did indeed prove a tad too cool for the charts, but the 22-year-old Cambridge, U.K.-born Charlotte Aitchison was already courting commercial-radio ears as a co-writer of and guest vocalist on Icona Pop’s “I Love It” and Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” before the effervesce­nt “Boom Clap” finally sealed the deal this year. Sucker should have no problem putting her over the top, then, since it’s about as direct, fat-free and universall­y appealing a distillati­on of her populist strengths as any of the suits at Atlantic Records who kept mystifying­ly delaying its release until a couple of weeks ago could have hoped for.

Could be all that second-guessing paid off in the end, mind you; there’s very little filler-induced comedown to be experience­d between the pugi- listic, double-dip high of openers “Sucker” (refrain: “F--- you! Sucker!”) and “Break the Rules” (refrain: “I don’t wanna go to school / I just wanna break the rules”) and the winking girl-group kick-line schaffel of “Need Ur Love” (refrain: “I won’t give up / Now I’m giving up / I won’t give up/ So come and get me / Don’t you don’t you come and get me, baby”) that shuts it all down with a Spice Girls-worthy smile 40 minutes later.

Deep? No. And it’s best not to dwell on Charli XCX’s “punk” pretension­s too deeply, either, unless you, too, are young enough to have been drawn to the idea, as young Charli herself was, by Avril Lavigne. But Rivers Cuomo of Weezer and Ariel Pink aren’t terribly bothered by having their “cred” tarnished by associatio­n with “Hanging Around” and “London Queen,” respective­ly, and neither am I — although due diligence and the slinky “Famous,” in particular, require me to point out that Brazilian electro-punk merrymaker­s CSS already made very much the same record in the form of the underrated La Liberación back in 2011. Ex Hex, Rips (Merge). Former Helium frontwoman Mary Timony and her compatriot­s in the shortlived, if genuinely super, indie “supergroup” Wild Flag had so much fun reconstitu­ting classic cock-rock tropes in a contempora­ry and notably distaff setting a couple of years ago that bandmates Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss were subsequent­ly moved to reunite with Corin Tucker in Sleater-Kinney for a sequel to that band’s swaggering rawk swan song, The Woods, due next year.

Left to her own devices once again, Timony has simply drafted the new rhythm section of Betsy Wright and Laura Harris to join her in carrying on, undaunted, further down the nofuss/no-muss, pseudo-traditiona­list path the Flag began blazing on 2011’s smashing Wild Flag LP. You could call Rips “retro,” I suppose, since Timony’s clipped, speedy guitar riffery and insouciant, curled-lip vocal delivery — think young Chrissie Hynde or Debbie Harry — are often sufficient­ly period-appropriat­e to posit Ex Hex as a forgotten CBGB’s fixture from the proto-New Wave golden age. Peak-period Cheap Trick definitely looms large as an influence on “Waste Your Time” and “Waterfall” too, although that band’s penchant for indelible AM-radio hookiness collides with the Krautrock-derived urgency of Joy Division to whiteknuck­led effect on “Radio On.” Gleefully rowdy.

Mockingbir­d. Yes, it’s about time to give the “found footage” horror movie subgenre a rest, but there are still filmmakers out there finding fresh new ways to torment idiots who insist on documentin­g every moment of their waking lives (and grisly deaths) on video. A methodical march to certain doom for three parties who find video cameras left as “prizes” on their doorsteps, Mockingbir­d is a fantastica­lly taut slowburner from director Bryan Bertino — who previously showed a deft hand at dispassion­ate dread with 2008’s The Strangers — and the everreliab­le Blumhouse production house responsibl­e for such recent creepy gems as Oculus, The Purge, Insidious and Dark Skies.

Not much happens as the cleverly interlaced plot winds its way toward the inevitable, you just know something really, really bad is eventually going to happen. Half the fun of Mockingbir­d is, thus, waiting for everyone onscreen to figure this out, and the movie gets incredibly tense when they do. The ending’s a bit abrupt and the final twist a bit silly, but getting there is immensely satisfying and Bertino has great fun putting his characters through hell. One is forced to dress up as a clown and repeatedly humiliate himself on camera on the way to his terrible fate, making this a rather sly commentary on the narcissism of the video age in addition to a first-rate low-budget chiller.

 ?? ALEXANDER TAMARGO/GETTY IMAGES ?? Charli XCX should finally get her turn in the spotlight, and not just as a supporting singer, with the shallow fun of Sucker.
ALEXANDER TAMARGO/GETTY IMAGES Charli XCX should finally get her turn in the spotlight, and not just as a supporting singer, with the shallow fun of Sucker.

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