Charli XCX

Sucker

(Atlantic ***)

nolead ends The first-generation Los Angeles punk-rock band X had a song called "Make the Music Go Bang." (Not one of their best, actually.) The title comes to mind because it's exactly what 22-year-old English songwriter and big-pop-star-in-the-making Charli XCX does on Sucker.

Charli's 2013 album True Romance was a promising but stylistically varied, uncertain affair. She found her métier, however, with "I Love It," the shouted-out football chant of a hit whose chorus she wrote for Swedish duo Icona Pop. From there, she fashioned the vocal hook to Iggy Azalea's summer smash "Fancy" and scored an onomatopoeic Fault in Our Stars soundtrack smash this summer with "Boom Clap." Sucker follows through with an onslaught of catchy, firecracker songs, detonated with such apparent ease that they work as a simultaneous celebration and critique of ear-candy pop convention. She plays the teenage rebel to the hilt on "Break the Rules" and gleefully sends a poor jerk packing on "Breaking Up" ("I hate your friends and your family, too / So breaking up was easy to do.") With a consistency that gets a bit grueling in the album's weaker second half, Sucker delivers one punk-pop punch after another, brashly carrying forward the exuberant tradition of such inspirations as Blondie, the Ramones, and Bow Wow Wow.

- Dan DeLuca

nolead begins K. Michelle
nolead ends nolead begins Anybody Wanna Buy A Heart?
nolead ends nolead begins (Atlantic ***1/2)

nolead ends Even if you hate reality TV and find its stars untalented, you have to pay attention to K. Michelle. She first made herself known through VH1's wildly combative Love & Hip Hop franchise. Then she landed her own program, K. Michelle: My Life. There's a hilarious cattiness in the character she plays on camera, a drama-loving, hyper-real K. On Anybody Wanna Buy a Heart?, her sophomore album, that same flair peeks through on the theatrical, space-soul "Something About the Night." A grand new song, "Build a Man," harks back to the assertive message of "Can't Raise a Man," from her first album, 2013's Rebellious Soul. But this powerhouse tenor vocalist, pianist, and songwriter also is capable of great tenderness, nuance, and understatement.

"God, I Get It" offers finesse and focus at a time when life is a blur. "Hard to Do" and the aching ballad "Maybe I Should Call" recall the soft sonics and arching melodicism of early R. Kelly. The title "Drake Would Love Me" sets listeners up for something funny or cocky, but instead presents heartbreak at going unnoticed in the face of passion. K. Michelle forges a fine album out of confidence and conviction.

- A.D. Amorosi

nolead begins Dan Montgomery
nolead ends nolead begins Sin, Repent, Repeat
nolead ends nolead begins (Fantastic Yes ***1/2)

nolead ends "You wonder just where you went wrong / So you write it all down in another song," Dan Montgomery sings on "Audrey and Hank," which starts as twangy country before exploding into a rocking rave-up.

A lot has gone wrong, through circumstances or their own weaknesses or both, for the characters who populate the latest batch of songs by the former South Jerseyan and Ben Vaughn roadie, who now lives in Memphis. But the combination of Montgomery's masterful storytelling, penetrating insight into the human heart, and full-bodied, extremely well-crafted roots-rock make these downbeat tales an utterly gripping listen.

"You know it wasn't supposed to be this way," Montgomery wryly laments on "Life's Funny." It's a development that, as he shows throughout Sin, Repent, Repeat, can be a great source of artistic inspiration.

- Nick Cristiano

New Recordings: Top Albums in the Region

TOP ALBUMS IN THE REGION

This Week Last Week

Locally   Nationally   Locally

1   1    Taylor Swift 1989   2

2   3    Nicki Minaj Pinkprint   -

3   2    Pentatonix That's Christmas to Me   3

4   4    J. Cole 1014 Forest Hills Drive   1

5   5    D'Angelo and the Vanguard    -

Black Messiah

6   12    Barbra Streisand Partners   5

7   6    One Direction Four    6

8   8    Sam Smith In the Lonely Hour   10

9   10    5 Seconds of Summer Livesos   -

10   15    Idina Menzel Holiday Wishes   9

SOURCE: SoundScan (based on purchase data from Philadelphia and Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, Chester, Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties). Billboard Magazine 1/3/15 © 2014

New Recordings: On Sale Tuesday

ON SALE TUESDAY

Dave Matthews, Under the Table & Dreaming