Charli XCX – ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ review: lockdown album is an anxiety-fuelled trip

Written and recorded in just five-and-a-half weeks, this wonky pop record perfectly encapsulates the disorientating mood of our current, bizarre times

With most of the world currently in self-isolation, celebrities have been sharing more and more of their lives online. Artists have been conducting interviews from the sofa, performing live in their bedrooms, and showing off their baking skills. The current pandemic has offered an unusual peek behind the curtain, and an insight into the lock-down lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Few artists have shared more with fans than Charli XCX. On April 6, when the UK had been in strict lockdown for two weeks (and California, where she lives, for a few days longer), she went live on video chat service Zoom with 1000 lucky Angels (the nickname given to her fans). She soon revealed that she’d be writing, recording and mixing an entire album during the quarantine period.  “My positivity goes hand in hand with being creative,” she explained. “I really need to be creative to feel happy, and to make sure my mental health is staying on track”.

Charli explained the nature of the album would be very DIY and “indicative of the times we’re in” – only using the tools she has at her fingertips (both physically in her house, and through online collaborators). On top of that, she set a typically ambitious finish-line – just five-and-a-half weeks to write, record and mix an entire album.

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Since then, Charli has kept to her word, sharing early demoes online, using listeners as a sounding board, and putting together a video for first single ‘Forever’ from fan’s video clips. She’s even been encouraging Angels to remix songs from ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ by releasing their stems online – and then playing her favourite reworkings on her Apple music show. Throughout the entire process she’s honestly shown what’s going on – with the entire process under a microscope for the entire world to look at.

And the end results? A wild, wonky-pop record brimming with the uneasy isolation-anxiety that’s become commonplace over the past few months.

Executively produced by Charli XCX, long-time collaborator and PC Music founder A. G. Cook (who also exec produced her last album ‘Charli’) and beloved American producer BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Empress Of, The Japanese House), ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ is a continuation of the futuristic pop she has made her own in recent years. Opener ‘Pink Diamond’ is an effervescent cut reminiscent of 2016 EP  ‘Vroom Vroom’. Filled with industrial electronics and hacking beats, it’s a dark, trance-laced trip. ‘c2.0’ – a reworking of ‘Clique’, which appeared on her self-titled album – is similarly erratic. Filled with fuzzy, overdriven synths and crackling bass, it’s excellently weird.

Despite the crunching production, her knack for a killer pop hook permeates the entire record. ‘Claws’ – which is produced by Dylan Brady of experimental duo 100 Gecs – is sweet ode to her boyfriend: with a stuttering, earworm chorus to match. UK garage-laced ‘I Finally Understand’ is a slowburner that’ll fit snugly in a 5am DJ set as the buzz slowly starts to fade.

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And you can hear a certain apprehension at the current pandemic throughout; both in the fizzing production and frank lyrics (“I’m so bored, what/Wake up late and eat some cereal. starts isolation-smasher ‘Anthems’, later revealing “sometimes I feel okay, some days I’m so frightened”). Overwhelmingly, her relationship is the dominant theme. After struggling to see her partner due to hectic schedules and being long distance, the couple have spent lockdown together, resulting in them being the strongest they’ve ever been.

The duo’s relationship is honestly dissected throughout – on ‘I Finally Understand’ Charli sings candidly “My therapist said I hate myself really bad/you tell me it’s fine, let me cry, and hug it out”. But it’s giddy lead single ‘Forever’ that sees the biggest proclamation: “I will always love you,” she sings earnestly, “I’ll love you forever/Even when we’re not together” over euphoric, squelching production. It’s the sound of finding solace and support in the most terrifying of times; mirrored in sugary vocals cut across bristling production.

‘How I’m Feeling Now’ is something of a musical time capsule, evoking the confusion that so many of us are feeling at the moment. Brimming with the prickling anxiety and stress that’s become commonplace during the pandemic, as well as the comfort Charli XCX has found in a strengthened relationship, it’s a glorious, experimental collection – and a reminder that within all of the current heartache and destruction, we’re never truly on our own.

Details

Release date: May 15

Record label: Atlantic Records/Asylum Records

 

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