Covid-19 has had polarising effects on creatives. While some are understandably finding the stress and bleakness of the current climate stifling to their productivity and creativity, others have found themselves inspired. This is the case for Charli XCX who, in just a month, has created one of the first “quarantine albums”: a record wholly inspired by and recorded within quarantine. The time pressure has helped create a beautifully glitchy, often overwhelming and anxiety-driven capsule of an album that illustrates society’s currently complicated relationship with technology and with ourselves through its industrial, electronic production. The appropriately titled how i’m feeling now perfectly depicts the confusing array of emotions (anxiety, loneliness, uncertainty, sadness, frustration and love) that isolation has provoked us all to feel and experience.
Opening with the imposing and foreboding ‘pink diamond’, the numbing restlessness of the track is immediately palpable as Charli talk-sings in a rushed deadpan manner about her desire to party and “go real hard”- which the track undoubtedly does. The deadpan delivery against the chaotic industrial production creates an intense dystopian-club song that perfectly establishes the tension, particularly between contrasting emotions and desires, that is carried through the record.
The tracklist is abundant with sonically overwhelming, hard-hitting songs. Each song is fantastically unique and individual whilst maintaining a coherent sound and concept, from the insanely futuristic Y2K inspired track c2.0 (a partial remix of and call back to ‘Click’ from Charli’s self-titled album) to the sweet, bubbling and catchy ‘claws’, to ‘visions’, the panic-propelled rollercoaster of a final track. Many tracks feel designed to turn your house into a club, filled with a longing for and mourning of the party-filled nights we can no longer enjoy.
The only fault of the album comes in the form of the song ‘i finally understand’. For the majority of its runtime, this track primarily features a catchy, repetitive drum-pad bassline and Charli’s vocals. While this makes for a danceable and grime-influenced track, unfortunately, ‘i finally understand’ is sonically less interesting and compelling than the rest of the album due to its very minimalistic production.
While many of the sounds on how i’m feeling now are robotic and abrasively technological, all of the songs on how i’m feeling now are overtly and authentically human. There are also several moments of tenderness and vulnerability that are particularly highlighted in the atmospheric ‘enemy’ and ‘party 4 u’, both of which centre on her relationship with her boyfriend, Huck Kwong, who she is currently isolating with. Every lyric, every production choice, feels raw and unfiltered, creating a wonderfully complex and true account of this time in history.
However, this authenticity is not something that came from working alone, but from an interactive production process that involved allowing her fans to vote, comment on, and even contribute to the record’s lyrics, sounds and artwork. Somewhat ironically, this highly collaborative process has produced one of Charli’s most authentic albums to date – one that not only depicts how she is feeling now, but how her fans are feeling too.
how i’m feeling now is a beautifully raw pop masterpiece that only Charli XCX could create. Unique, forward-thinking in both its futuristic human sound and its production process, and authentic, this record highlights Charli at the top of her game and as one of the boldest, smartest, and innovative artists currently producing music, particularly within the pop mainstream. Her insatiable creativity, self-assured artistic voice and forward-thinking vision of pop music has birthed one of the most culturally and socially resonant albums and pieces of art of recent history, one that will likely be remembered as a 37-minute condensed capsule of these uncertain times for decades to come.
Words by Emma Reilly