- The response to PC Music was always balanced between delight and disgust, but at some point in 2015 the scales tipped. Perhaps it was thanks to Pop Cube, a "fake reality TV network" sponsored by Red Bull, at a time when opinion was turning against art that tries to critique consumerist culture by simply aping it. Or maybe it was when GFOTY made a racist joke in a festival review, revealing her persona to be a thoughtless provocation from a position of privilege. Regardless, when Columbia signed the collective towards the end of the year, it seemed like a classic case of the majors being late to the party. Surely any attempts to take them "big" would fall flat.
PC Music Volume 2 suggests otherwise. The thinkpiece carousel may have slowed in the last 18 months, but the label's output hasn't. Their second compilation shows how it has manoeuvred itself from the DIY fringes into more direct contact with the mainstream pop world. Yes, there are holdouts: GFOTY and Felicita seem to have morphed into bratty teen acolytes of Alec Empire, remaining as obnoxious as ever but much less interesting. But the comp's dominant feel is slicker and more uniform, and seemingly more sincere.
This transformation hinges on the voices. Hannah Diamond's stilted squeak has been buffed to an angelic Vocaloid sheen on "Fade Away"; the track might be PC Music's best, an immensely satisfying trance-pop ouroboros of verse, pre-chorus, chorus and repeat. She's joined by a cast of actual popstars, who guest over polished synth-pop productions with a giddy edge: Carly Rae Jepsen on Danny L Harle's "Super Natural," Sweden's Noonie Bao on easyFun's "Monopoly," Chinese popstar Chris Lee on the darker, A.G. Cook-produced "Only You." PC Music's amateur singers are probably its most marmite attribute. Take them away, and it's harder to read parody in the music's colourful forms.
The writing has also improved—songs whoosh more efficiently from contemplative verse into explosive chorus—and cloying cuteness has given way to a more palatable euphoria. If anything, this smoother sound presents a new risk: that the music becomes formulaic. Hannah Diamond's "Hi" is good, but a retread of her previous singles. Danny L Harle's "Broken Flowers," having already been released twice, hardly merits inclusion.
PC Music's sincere makeover also has its risks, as Cook discovers when he steps out from behind his female ciphers to sing on "Superstar," and ends up sounding like an open mic casualty. But while it's not without flaws, Volume 2 isn't the sound of a label fizzling out. It's possible that they're just getting started.
01. Hannah Diamond - Fade Away
02. Danny L Harle - Super Natural feat. Carly Rae Jepsen
03. A.G. Cook - Superstar
04. easyFun - Monopoly feat. Noonie Bao
05. GFOTY - Poison
06. Felicita - A New Family
07. Hannah Diamond - Hi
08. Danny L Harle - Broken Flowers
09. Chris Lee - Only You
10. Life Sim - IDL