While most of us privileged enough to be working from home at the moment are spending our free time wallowing, snacking, and binging terrible TV just to feel something it is clear that this is not the case for future-pop icon Charli XCX.
Speaking openly about her need to be creative in order to stay busy, productive and remain sane amidst a global pandemic, Charli has stayed true to her word, met her self-imposed deadline, and delivered the first album from a major artist to be made from scratch during the quarantine. “The nature of this album is gonna be very indicative of the times just because I’m only gonna be able to use the tools I have at my fingertips to create all music, all artwork, all videos… everything – in that sense, it’ll be very DIY,” she stated in April, announcing the project to 1000 fans on a Zoom call.
‘how i’m feeling now’ is, undeniably, an impressive feat and feels like a logical step forward from her last album, 2019’s ‘Charli’. It is an eclectic amalgamation of creative mediums which Charli has tied together with impressive speed and execution.
She wrote and recorded the album, filmed videos in her basement, created merch and enrolled friends such as Caroline Polachek to create artwork for the project. Its DIY elements are reflected in all of these areas, amplified by the personability of the artist herself, her efforts to engage her fans supporting them just as much as they support her, and the relatability of her often anxious lyrics (as many of us are feeling similar during the pandemic).
The production, however, is squeaky clean, and could not be further from sounding homemade. Executive Producers BJ Burton and PC Music jedi A. G. Cook exaggerate surreal and powerful synths, exploding drums, hard beats, and warped vocals to tie it all together leaving this DIY project feeling highly polished.
Previous singles from the album are its highlights; from garage infused 90s glossy Euro-dance bop, ‘i finally understand’ to ‘claws’, which was produced by 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady. Its video was shot on a green screen in Charli’s basement by her boyfriend and directed from afar by Charlie Chops. Her first single, ‘forever’, was written over two days and she co-executive produced the song with A. G. Cook and BJ Burton. It is a heartfelt statement which initially is seen as an ode to her relationship, however, the context of how the song originated echoed in the music video of compiled of clips sent by her fans brings a new meaning to the track. “I’ll love you forever, even when we’re not together” speaks of the community of fans in which Charli is supported, and even though they are not together, for now, she is showing her thanks and love to them.
Her humanoid vocals on ‘Detonate’ are reminiscent of Kate Bush’s ‘Deeper Understanding’ from her ‘Directors Cut’ album, and explore the romance of the robotic – alien yet strangely familiar. This track resonates hard though its lyrical vulnerability accompanied by lighter production. Its classic warped auto-tune is ever-present but dialled down to be an overall more accessible pop song. ‘Detonate’s’ tight lyricism contrasts with the repetitive lyrics of ‘7 years’, which feels rushed in places, “Oh yeah, it's really, really, really, really nice / And now I never, ever, ever think twice” leaving moments which fall flat.
‘party 4 u’ is a moment of respite amongst the brilliant chaos, allowing us to take a breath, while ‘c2.0’ (co-written by lawless Estonian rapper Tommy Cash) sounds like a laptop overheating and my hairdryer exploding all at once. The album peaks and troughs, the single tracks standing out while others can be glossed over more easily, yet throughout the abrasive jolting and glitching, one thing remains constant, a solid pop chorus with catchy melodies.
The album closes with 'visions': a brilliant illustration of A. G. Cook's genius all too reminiscent of leaving a sweaty club as the sun comes up. The heavy beats and sirens evoke a memory which usually I do not intend to remember, yet in lockdown circumstances, leaves me pining for it once again, and therefore wanting more of the album itself. As her opening line of the album states “I just wanna go real hard” accompanied by a sense of impending doom, I sigh and think to myself: me too Charli, me too.
‘how i’m feeling now’ is essentially a series of android love letters; to her relationship (and how it has grown throughout lockdown), to her fans (whom she has involved every step of the way), her friends and contributors, and to herself, as she has opened up about mental health during the lockdown, and the fear of how to continue once it is over, with lyrics pondering whether she is deserving of love. This directly contrasts with boasting her rarity as a ‘pink diamond’ in the first track.
Charli starts and ends with hard disorienting club bangers, leaving the middle of the album space to expose her tenderness and vulnerability while still retaining her futuristic, unpredictable sound and penchant for an irresistible pop hook.
Words: Megan Warrender
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