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ALBUM REVIEW: CHARLI XCX – HOW I’M FEELING NOW

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Charli delivers the quarantine album that we’ve all been waiting for in How I’m Feeling Now, filled with a constant sense of ferocious energy, anxiety and the boredom that many of us have succumbed to during this time of crisis. Charli’s 4th album, coming out less than a year after the release of Chari, How I’m Feeling Now has been made in less than 2 months, an impressive feat from the pop star to say the least when it took 4 years to make her 3rd.      

By Charli herself this album has been defined as ‘DIY’ and while I would say this is hard to hear in the quality of production it’s certainly been created at an exceptionally rapid speed, every single song being made during the COVID-19 pandemic. The production, done by some of the best producers in the scene of experimental pop and rap including A.G Cook, Dylan Brady and Danny L Harle has brought this together, both sticking to their unique styles and completely deviating from them. The album is one that live in the now, I mean it is literally called ‘How I’m Feeling Now’, an on the nose title clearly looking at the multiple conflicted feelings  going through her head during quarantine with anxiety, forming deeper relationship with those she is closest with and missing the normal everyday of going out and meeting friends and family. 

This sentiment is obvious in such songs as leading single Forever which through its videos shows memories, sent in by fans, of great times they have had with family or loved ones. Its lyrics on the other are based nearly entirely around the relationship with her boyfriend, ‘I will always love you, I’ll love you forever’ is not exactly subtle in its message, but that’s not really what pop, or charli, has ever been about. On the other hand Enemy contains hints of self doubt and worry of, however unfounded, the possibility that her relationship may end with dire consequences, diving into her psyche through the use of janky phone recordings of her talking off the cuff about herself and her relationships. If one thing is obvious, it’s that this album truly is based on the lived experience of Charli as an artist, there is no artifice being placed upon her or writers room conjuring up fantasies like we see with other pop stars, it’s just her, alone and coming from a place of deep vulnerability.

The anxiety  and vunerability that can be heard in Enemy is completely juxtaposed by the manic energy we hear in other tracks, Anthem is an electro pop banger with one of the best first verses I have heard this year, the exceptional line delivery of Have sex, me and my Romeo/He says I’m irresistible/I’m gassed up like I’m Texaco is wonky, but works and is near completely unique to Charli. The aggressive snare smacks through the entire mix with this odd collaborative production by Dylan Brady and Danny L Harle, I would not have expected it but it brings in the repetitive and hook based tracks of Danny and combines it with the unbridled aggression we hear much of the time from Brady and seemingly balance both against each other like yin and yang with little issues. Pink Diamond is a callback to the likes of what we heard from the EP that started this change, Vroom Vroom with intense, distorted elements to its production on top of a line delivery akin to what we heard from that very EP It has a death grips quality to it with its melding of experimental hip hop and its abnormally intense and claustrophobic production. Emotionally the tracks are raw and vulnerable in a way that we have not seen from Charli so far, an expected reaction to both the crisis and to the situation at hand in which we are very much caught up in our own worlds and seem to spend much of our time cooped up in our heads. 

The production can in some cases feel rushed, for example the Palmistry produced I Finally Understand comes across as surprisingly short and somewhat unfinished in comparison to both other singles tracks released preceding the album, with the song suddenly stopping well before it feels fully complete leaving me somewhat unsatisfied as what was there was a brilliant piece of house. This is to not take away from what is there, for 38 days it has production that is far better, more experiments and far above other albums that have come out at the same time with far higher budgets and far more time behind them. An impressive feat to say the least and exec produced by A.G Cook for the entire album, with impressive production from him on lead single Forever and Party 4U, which come out as some of the highlights from an album absolutely chocked full of them. It’s a menagerie of future pop trends and calling cards, expected from the proponent of the genre and obviously while not as well produced overall as the likes of Charli it is still highly detailed and meticulously made. Many would have rested on the laurels of their first album in years but Charli has  seen no reason to stop, quickly changed again with new music leading from Charli into a direction where the sound feels defined and intrinsically recognisable to Charli XCX, but still heavily experimental in comparison to nearly all of her contemporaries. 

How I’m Feeling Now is the most intimate showing from Charli XCX so far, raw, emotionally charged and a truly unfiltered and visceral personal reaction to the pandemic we are facing. It’s not a long album, at just 37 minutes, but it’s worth every second of its 11 tracks. Richly detailed and built from the ground up with very much a sense of purpose, a need to bring out new music as she constantly strives to perfect a sound that is far more interesting than anything else in the mainstream pop landscape. It’s the best and most comprehensive look at life in lockdown with the tone nearly entirely inwards facing, contemplative, emotional and vulnerable, a place that many people can relate to in these times.

It’s a must for anyone into experimental pop or as just a snapshot of the times we live in.

Highlight Tracks: Anthems, Claws, Pink Diamond, Enemy, Forever. 

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