Charli XCX – ‘how i’m feeling now’ review: a beautiful pulse of avant-garde pop

It’s no surprise that Charli XCX is the first artist to entirely make and release an album in the coronavirus pandemic (in just 6 weeks!) Charli’s intense drive and ability to be at the peak of her creativity during such a horrific time goes to show just how powerful the pop princess really is. Partnering with frequent collaborator AG Cook (the creator of experimental pop music label PC music), 100 gecs front man Dylan Brady, and BJ Burton, Charli has been remotely building beats from scratch, recording auto tuned vocals, and sharing her visions on social media. Although Charli has been physically distanced from her fans and collaborators, her process for making the album has never been so engaging. By using Zoom calls to promote her music, IG live streams to ask fans for help on potential song lyrics, and scouting visual artists to design her single covers, Charli has completely solidified herself as the reigning avant-garde, and technologically savvy, pop star of the decade. The album embraces the mutant synths, pulsating beats, and ethereal auto tuned vocals that Charli has been experimenting with for quite some time. Now fully embracing the sound without any features (as her last album Charli heavily did), she is in her element. 

The album starts with a ferocious track “Pink Diamond” in which Charli chants: “I just wanna go real hard!” A cacophony of thumping beats and booming bass pulse with a feminine, nonchalant voice. The next track “Forever” was the leading single Charli released to the world. It features a multi-tracked, repetitive melody that sticks instantly. The song disperses into a crackling sound with hyper-pop vocals that spring around the ear. Charli’s vocals on “Claws” jump up and down, expressing her intense love for her boyfriend who has been quarantined with her. Regarding “detonate”, Charli said that “It’s actually quite hard for me to listen to this song because I feel like the rest of the album is so joyous and positive and loving.” On this track, Charli is vulnerable, opening up about her self-destructive nature and issues with trusting herself that she feels will inevitably destroy the person closest to her like a bomb. The outro diffuses into the most beautiful overlapping of pitched vocals and synths, only to reconstruct itself in a formidable combination of magical beats and existential questions. “enemy” features a candid voice memo that Charli recorded after a session with her therapist and “i finally understand” incorporates elements of UK garage and Baltimore club music. Charli remixes her song “click” off of her last album with “c2.0”. She may not be with her clique anymore, but the assemblage of carefully layered vocals make it sound as if she is leading an army. 

The album feels deeply futuristic and digital. It’s fitting that Charli showcased some of her demos on the first-ever Minecraft concert with 100 gecs last month. She absorbs the world around her, chaotic and tumultuous with a never-ending news cycle and the constant inundation of social media posts from all over the globe at once. But where most artists crumble under such pressure, Charli lets the overwhelm coalesce into a shimmering production of profound questions, newfound ideas, sexually charged lyrics, and simply fun melodies. She says that “[“anthems”] is just about wanting to get fucked up”. On a Project-X sounding track, the hectic energy of a once-in-a-lifetime- party is captured and released into the still bedrooms of her quarantined fans. She addresses the looming concern about COVID-19, hoping that “Finally, when it’s over. We might be even closer”. The album’s final track “visions” descends into sirens and pulsating rhythms. It sounds like driving away from a burning warehouse rave in a Tesla. The song feels like a lucid dream, filled with dazzling images of Charli and her boyfriend, a continuous buzzer noise, and an intense thumping that stomps towards the unknown. how i’m feeling now certainly shrieks amidst all the noise from the outside world, but inside, everything about this album is beautiful. 

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