From her roots as a YouTube enigma to her first bubblegum pop release to her industrial metal approach, Poppy has had one of the most interesting careers of many artists with any substantial following. After all, it’s not common for artists to move away from pop, and while I Disagree had some radio-friendly moments, it was considerably darker and heavier than most listeners would anticipate. Ultimately, Poppy distinguished herself as a far more versatile—and more interesting—artist than her earliest work would indicate.
Flux sees yet another substantial sonic transition, where Poppy seems to borrow from Metric, Paramore, Pixies, and Avril Lavigne for a more straightforward punk sound. That’s not to say the songwriting is worse by any stretch than what she’s done—but more that new listeners will likely not find this sound as esoteric. Fast-tempo gritty guitars, thick bass, and angsty vocals coalesce into a sound that gives a healthy nod to the 90s. But Poppy doesn’t forsake a bit of modern polish, either. There might be garage rock influence at play, but production is as strong as ever.
This juxtaposition is the main puzzle of Poppy’s efforts on this record. Take “On The Level”, for instance. The main core of the track is radio-friendly and catchy in its own right. But add in a gritty, post-metal-influenced wall of guitar intermittently and you might scratch your head a bit. It works, but it’s a unique choice. Opting for simpler, grittier songs seems like an odd choice given Poppy’s trajectory so far. I personally enjoy it, but it’s confusing from a marketing standpoint. The main conclusion I can’t help but reach is that Poppy truly is in it for the art.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I left out the aesthetics. Take the video for “So Mean,” which features the staple checkered floor reminiscent of Idiot Pilot’s “Retina and the Sky” and a handful of other alternative/punk type bands. The black apparel of the band members is familiar, too. Then there’s Poppy herself—as to be expected, she’s adorned in a unique costume—somewhere between an Alice In Wonderland character and a riot grrrl icon. She’s less bloodthirsty this time around, but man will she talk about you to all her friends if you do her wrong. Even so, this new iteration feels a bit more approachable and even fun in some ways—yet still more seasoned than the innocence of that Poppy.
Lyrically, there’s a continued commentary on the history of Titanic Sinclair and the music industry at large, though it’s not spelled out so clearly. Many of the songs speak to Poppy’s own self-assuredness and its tug-of-war struggle against what others expect from her, but time and again the strength of her songwriting manages to win this battle.
Some listeners have commented this is Poppy’s strongest album yet, and there’s certainly some truth ther. Flux marries the intensity of I Disagree with the pop of Am I A Girl? and Bubblebath. But these throwback ornaments are used tastefully and sparingly. Flux doesn’t seem to care that much for the past. It’s a proper reinvention, albeit one that seemed to happen at a whirlwind pace. Even so, this collection of tracks frankensteins the best of a host of punk subgenres for refreshingly-powerful release. “As Strange As It Seems” shimmers with hazy shoegaze; “Flux” reminds me of Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm; Her is grungey. We haven’t seen a lot of resurgence of the 90s sound just yet, but if Poppy is any indication of what this might look like, we’ve got a lot to look forward to.