Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now Review

As the Covid-19 pandemic spread and lockdown orders were issued around the world, social network feeds began filling up with domestic acoustic concerts, Zoom fan meetings or virtual gigs. Surrounded by makeshift online events, we have seen most of the artists struggling with the same question: what can a musician do during a global quarantine? The outcomes sometimes were successful, sometimes forgettable, but almost always redundant and predictable, a wretched substitute, looking forward to a return to normalcy. After a few days, we were already fed up with this overwhelming, amateurish online presence, and most of us probably began spending our time in different ways.

Then comes Charli XCX.

Self-declared workaholic, the volcanic British singer who released her third studio album Charli in September, had already declared her intention to record two new albums during 2020. In March, she revealed during a Zoom call with one thousand lucky Angels (that’s how she refers to her fans) that her new album, how i’m feeling now, was about to be released. Actually, it felt more like a confirmation of a heavy suspicion rather than a surprising announcement. Thus in the following weeks Charli started to run a sort of collaborative process, involving fans in the production of the tracks, teasing beats and demos and sharing lyrics drafts, with an unseen level of engagement. Choices about the singles’ releases and the artwork were conducted through Instagram stories pools, and fans were also asked to co-write some verses. The entire process, which would normally be behind curtains, was here right in front of you, documented in real-time every day.

Given the circumstances, this new album has a deeply do-it-yourself attitude. No featured artists, just harsh, audacious electronic productions and Charli’s sappy, saccharine lyrics about love and loneliness. Her voice, even when digitally manipulated, remains clearly recognizable; this is her very trademark. In the past years, the singer has made mainstream pop bangers as well as more sophisticated and experimental songs, always preserving her confidently emotional and ironic style. This time she definitely follows the second path, providing futuristic, wonky, glitchy synth pop songs. As many noticed, even if it was released as an official album, it recalls more her previous mixtapes (especially 2016’s Vroom Vroom) rather than the latest album Charli.

The 11 tracks of how i’m felling now are structured and polished: sing-along tunes made of desperate repetitions, lying on harsh, destabilizing sounds, juddering synths and crackling basses. They are extremely rich in melody, and especially heartbreaking in many songs outros. Despite this, a coiling energy pervades the album. It sounds like the perfect party music for a period in which parties are not allowed. She perfectly preserves that sound that fans of PC Music label have been enjoying so far. PC Music founder A.G.Cook produces many of the album’s tracks, along with Danny L. Harle, Palmistry, 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady, Dijon Duenas and BJ Burton.

Compared to her previous albums, how i’m feeling now takes a wider range of directions, reflecting different emotional states. On “anthems”, a direct and intense song written with fan contributions collected through Instagram, Charli sings “I’m so bored, woo!/Wake up late, eat some cereal/Try my best to be physical/Lose myself in a TV show/Staring out to oblivion/All my friends are invisible” and energetically explodes in the chorus “I want anthems, late night, New York”. It sounds trivial but overwhelming in its simplicity, an anthem for a shared feeling which anyone can empathize with. Similarly, “c2.0”, a rework of the Charli track “Click”, is an ode to missing her clique, hoping for better times to come. Then there is mostly teenage romance: “claws” or “forever” are two harrowing and naive songs that conserve a genuine and authentic feeling towards falling in love. When she approaches love in a more mature or reflective way (“enemy”, “7 years”), it always looks like an all-encompassing, genuine experience. The long-teased “party 4 u” is a powerful, outstanding example of this attitude, a struggling hymn to a love on the edge of turning into obsession, surrounded by gorgeous uplifting synths and sweetly enveloping basses. Unsurprisingly, Charli has explained that most of the lyrical inspiration comes from her long-term love story with boyfriend Huck Kwong. In “enemy”, she even samples a therapy session that she recorded, wondering if her boyfriend, as the person closest to her, could be her enemy (probably referring to a quote from “The Godfather” movie: “Keep you friends close, but your enemies closer”).

Even if initially teased as a “quarantine album”, how I’m feeling now is far from a concept album. But still, it perfectly captures the present zeitgeist, made by the internet warping every aspect of our locked-up lives, missing hanging out with friends and great love stories to celebrate. Moving from a shared experience, Charli XCX explores intense inner conditions with clarity and genuineness, avoiding intellectualisms or idealizations. It’s not just about the quarantine, it’s really about how we are feeling.

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