With latest record how i’m feeling now, Charli XCX once again shows why she deserves to be recognised as one of the top pop artists of all time.
This quarantine-inspired record is an accomplishment in its own right: an 11-track album that was planned, recorded, and produced in lockdown, over the span of 6 weeks. And despite limitations in recording and time-frame, how i’m feeling now is effortlessly consistent, delivering impeccable production on individual, well-developed tracks without any need for filler material. The record is self-driven and self-reflective – it has no features (bar production). But it was also an experiment in inclusivity; Charli, keen to involve her fans (who she terms Angels), hosted 1000-person zoom conferences to write lyrics and receive feedback on demos, took in fan art submissions for her singles’ art, and created a collage of fan videos for forever’s music video.
how i’m feeling now capitalises off successes discovered in Charli, her critically acclaimed 2019 album. Gone are the bubblegum tracks of early records SUCKER and True Romance, replaced by introspective, complex tracks that tackle real issues. Vulnerability in lyrics were a key feature of Charli, with tracks like Gone, Thoughts and I Don’t Wanna Know tackling topics such as insecurity, anxiety and dependency, and the album’s production is often stripped-back and necessary, preferring subtlety over garishness. The same is true of how i’m feeling now.
As Charli did with Next Level Charli, how i’m feeling now opens with a truly explosive track, pink diamond. This title only seems to relate to the sound of the track in sharpness, as its intense synths immediately attack the listener, situating them in an unpredictable setting. Charli’s detached, modulated vocals are a warning, repeating ‘I just wanna go real hard’ over and over, forewarning of what is to come. And ‘go real hard’ she certainly does; volume and noise play a huge role on how i’m feeling now. anthems, a fast-paced rave anthem that masks a frustrated cry for normality, is a hectic track, relying on heavy synths, a powerful beat and dominant vocals. visions, the album’s closing track, builds and builds over its near 4-minute runtime into a deafening hardstyle crescendo, which blasts the listener with competing synths that grow in noise before droning out.
'Despite limitations in recording and time-frame, how i’m feeling now is effortlessly consistent, delivering impeccable production on individual, well-developed tracks without any need for filler material'.
But how i’m feeling now’s volume goes two ways. detonate is far more restrained than its explosive title might suggest. The light, glittery instrumentation pairs beautifully with Charli’s soft, echoey vocals and introspective lyrics. The bubbly track evolves in its outro, building speed and intensity accompanied by bomb-like beeps, splicing Charli’s vocals in and out erratically. enemy is similar – a catchy, laid-back ballad that plays off the phrase ‘keep your friends close, but enemies closer.’ The synths of this track feel like steps, as the listener walks up a set of stairs, never really getting anywhere. Charli also provides a reflective monologue, vulnerably talking about her new journey with therapy.
c2.0 - a remix of Charli’s Click - is how i’m feeling now’s answer to Blame It On Your Love. Originally a party anthem concerned with self-aggrandization, the track is turned on its head, becoming a wholesome tribute to friendship. The highly repetitive intro (with lyrics like ‘Click x100’) builds gradually, adding new layers whilst softening existing ones, cutting in and out. The track is like patchwork – cut up, rearranged, hugely transformed, but perhaps even more beautiful than before.
party 4 u is also a reworked track, and a fan favourite. Originally played in 2017, it has been revised play after play, but now has found a permanent home on how i’m feeling now. The song is lyrically concerned with partying (a topic much beloved by Charli), yet the track sounds empty, full of space and echoes – a reflection upon quarantine. Charli employs her quasi-rapping in the verses, building speed which inevitably collapses; the track is occasionally loud and occasionally soft. This inconsistency builds a feeling of desperation and longing, matched with Charli’s extending vocals in the outro which fade into the sounds of cheering at her live shows.
'Nothing is overly polished. Lyrics are sometimes basic, tracks sometimes appear slapdash. Yet none of this seems detrimental or unintentional, instead a reflection of the times we are living through'.
Charli’s relationship with her on/off boyfriend, Huck Kwong, is perhaps the most central theme to the album, particularly in her released singles. forever is a sweet love-song, that feels intimate and close but also brash with its boldly distorted bass and futuristic crashes (https://www.themicmagazine.co.uk/post/the-mic-recommends-120420). claws is a cheesy, hyper-repetitive track that is so blatantly cliché (‘juicy just like clementines’) and catchy that you can’t help but sing along (https://www.themicmagazine.co.uk/post/the-mic-recommends-240420). i finally understand is an ode to rave and glitch-pop – drum and bass influences creep into the song as the groove flows like liquid with subtle builds and mellow, drawn-out melodies. The song is a periphrasis for ‘I love you to death’ as Charli repeatedly sings ‘that maybe this feeling that I've found/ Might kill me, put me in the ground’.
Nothing is overly polished. Lyrics are sometimes basic, tracks sometimes appear slapdash. Yet none of this seems detrimental or unintentional, instead a reflection of the times we are living through. The spontaneity of the tracks perfectly encapsulates the feeling of not knowing what to expect: uncertainty is rife in how i’m feeling now.