When it comes to music, countless topics have been approached and life experiences have been shared within the art form. However, music tackling and created in real time with an unforeseen event affecting the entire world doesn’t come by as often.
“how i’m feeling now” is pop singer and songwriter Charli XCX’s quarantine album, conceived entirely in the last six weeks from her own home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
But “how i’m feeling now” isn’t just a mere collection of pop bangers Charli XCX is pumping out to hold her fans over during a crisis. The album gives listeners the full album experience as a creative journey and creative release.
In 2019, Charli XCX dropped her long-awaited and painstakingly crafted pop classic “Charli,” an album where Charli XCX showcased many layers of talent and diversity in style. From the wildly popular and catchy “1999” to the abrasive and experimental “Click,” Charli XCX revealed she is as capable of making quality pop anthems that connect with mainstream audiences as she is willing to experiment. Given the album’s extraordinary effort, naturally another Charli XCX album felt years away.
On “how i’m feeling now,” Charli XCX uses her newly found free time to channel her experimental and abrasive side to its peak thus far. Not only is this direction exciting as a listener, but it also feels like a natural reaction when taking in the album’s lyrical and thematic content.
The opening track “Pink Diamond” makes a clear statement right off the bat, leading with the harshest synths and drums of the whole album. Charli XCX’s monotone and laid back rapping over A. G. Cook’s noisy production is a fitting setting for lyrics about wanting to release all your energy while you can’t, the everlasting desire to, “go hard.”
Many relatable quarantine feelings are explored throughout and with equal experimentation. On “Anthems,” co-written and produced by frequent collaborator Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, she longs for the excitement within her late-night party life in the city. The chorus climaxes in bubblegum bass ear candy, and contrasting with her wonky rapped verses captures the duality of living in lockdown, sometimes feeling like you have too much energy bottled up with nowhere to release it and the growing unmotivating effects of a directionless indoor life.
It’s unsurprising to see Brady receive a writing accreditation on “c2.0,” a spiritual successor to Charli XCX’s “Click” produced by Brady on her last album. “c2.0” samples a phrase from the original song in 100 gecs pitch-shifted fashion, building up to one of the catchiest hooks and triumphant moments in a Charli XCX song. Charli XCX sings about missing her group of friends, her “Click” in reference to the original song, and finds solace shared in their memories.
Many can connect with Charli XCX right now when it comes to missing your friends, the nightlife and overall normalcy, but she doesn’t shy away from putting out more personal struggles and confessional feelings. She has been transparent in recent interviews that the pandemic saved her current relationship with her boyfriend, bringing them much closer after spending significant time apart.
Songs in the tracklist that are lighter on the experimental side, like “Forever,” “Party 4 u” and “Enemy” focus more on introspection and relationship themes, which bring a spacy and futuristic electro pop vibe as opposed to the noisy and industrial.
There’s not a single miss in the 37 minutes of “how I’m feeling now,” but it doesn’t contain enough material or versatility to compare to the pop epic her 2019 album was. An album on the scale of “Charli” with a stronger experimental influence such as “how I’m feeling now” feels like the Charli XCX album of the future.
After a few rotations of the album, the takeaway feeling is gratefulness. Grateful for Charli XCX continuing to embrace experimentation and for her to share such personal music during such a difficult point in history.
Final Verdict: 8/10