Title: how i'm feeling now
Artist: Charli XCX
Label: Atlantic Records UK
Genre: Alternative Pop
Released: 15 May 2020
how i'm feeling now
“Said I'll love you forever
I know in the future
We won't see each other
Cold just like December
But I will always love you”
2020 has been a fucking terrible year. I think we can all agree on that. In only seven months we’ve experienced some of the worst things most of us will see in our lifetime. At the forefront of this has obviously been the global coronavirus pandemic, which is something that has and will inevitably change everything as we know it for a very long time. In the case of millions of people world-wide, it meant a complete state of lockdown lasting many months that most areas are only just beginning to emerge from. Self-isolation has become a necessary course of action, which by consequence has almost halted various areas of the entertainment industry. Live music has suffered in particular, but so has the actual production and release of new music. Artists have had both the disadvantages of not being able to produce under the circumstances of quarantine, as well as difficulties releasing their music due to touring and marketing reasons. But with everyone stuck inside for months on end there has also been opportunity for creativity to thrive, and this is exactly what has happened in the case of Charli XCX’s latest project.
“how I’m feeling now” was created completely over the span of one month during the height of the quarantine period, and is distinctly reflective of (as the title suggests) the effects of social isolation. But for an album made in such a condensed period, as well as under strange circumstances, this sounds remarkably well-constructed. In fact, the conditions in which “how I’m feeling now” was made seems to have created a lightning-in-a-bottle effect on much of the album. While this might not be quite as innovative as some of Charli’s previous work, it arguably has some of her best songs.
Most of “how I’m feeling now” sounds as if Charli had her producers send her the most insane shit possible, with her then delivering equally wild performances in turn. And the opening track is one of the best examples of this. ‘pink diamond’ is incredibly abrasive and hyperactive; and is by far one of the most manic songs that Charli has ever created. It marks her first collaborative effort with producer Dijon, and is an extremely attention-grabbing introduction to the album. Charli talks about video-chatting becoming the new normal form of communication, using skype-sex as an example of how isolation has drastically changed millions of people’s personal lives.
“I'm feeling so fine, kinda feelin' like a slut
Gonna give you good views, watch me whip it up
I'm really so rare, I'm sent from above
Wish you could come 'round, pick me up in your car, yeah”
The next two tracks ‘forever’ and ‘claws’ were the two leading singles for the album, and are by far some of the best pop songs of the year. They’re both more conventional than ‘pink diamond’, and far catchier, but still manage to include some eccentric characteristics. ‘claws’ is produced by Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, and his distinct style of incorporating industrial-sounding aspects into the music complements Charli’s style perfectly. They’re also both tamer sounding lyrically, and are instead more standard songs about love and assurance directed towards her significant other. However, this doesn’t diminish them in any way. And as I said, these are two of my favourite songs of the year.
The next three tracks from ‘7 years’ to ‘enemy’ are also really great, and are all endlessly catchy. ‘enemy’ is a highlight, with Charli talking about how spending so much time with her significant other makes her worry if it’s affecting her other personal relationships; especially under the circumstances of quarantine, where she can’t maintain those connections as easily. It also has some great production from BJ Burton, who also contributed on ‘forever’ and ‘7 years’ along with Charli’s main producer A. G. Cook.
“Maybe you're my enemy
Now I've finally let you come a little close to me, oh”
‘I finally understand’ is a bit of a dip in momentum for “how I’m feeling now”, and while it’s still decent, it doesn’t really stand out like many of the earlier tracks in the album. The second half of the record has a few other instances of this: songs that are really good, but don’t quite reach the quality of the first stretch of tracks. It’s still an incredibly consistent album from start to finish, but the first half is undeniably better than the second. That being said, ‘party 4 u’ is an excellent track which really takes its time to develop, and is a lot more restrained than some of the more hyperactive content on “how I’m feeling now”. ‘anthems’ is also quite a good track that once again addresses the effects of lockdown, as well as missing the ability to go out clubbing of a night.
“Wanna feel the heat from all the bodies
I want anthems
Late nights, my friends, New York”
The album ends with ‘visions’, which slowly starts to deconstruct itself towards the end; mutating from a dance pop track into a strange, dissonant and noisy conclusion. It’s one of the main instances where Charli’s music is really starting to stretch the boundaries of pop music, which is part of what makes her music so exciting.
It’s incredible that despite being made in such a condensed period this album still managed to deliver a variety of great pop songs, as well as be so wildly experimental at the same time. And if she can create such a quality album in such a short span of time, then I don’t see anything stopping her from making some of the best pop music of the 2020s to come.
“So, don't you hold me back
'Cause I know when I know, I don't wanna be alone
Don't you hold me back
'Cause I know when I know, I wanna go”
Reviewed by Layton Bryce - 12/07/20