Album Review: Charli XCX – “how i’m feeling now”
Posted: by The Editor
Charli XCX, the pop futurist born Charlotte Aitchison, opened her 2019 semi-self titled release Charli with a track entitled “Next Level Charli.” The song is one of her many odes to partying all night, but carries a strange staccato vocal delivery, more shouting-as-if-to-hype-up-a-crowd than singing. It found her causing mayhem till the early morning: “Go forever and ever / And roll / with your friends out ’till 7AM / Come and meet me on the highway / Smoke blowing, let’s race.” It’s the kind of reckless partying that does not exist merely nine months later. On her new album how i’m feeling now, there’s only one reference to her former club kid lifestyle, and it’s one of longing. “I want anthems / late nights / my friends / New York,” she cries on “anthems.” It’s the kind of commanding, frenetic pop song that Charli has become known for, and one of the best in her catalog.
While that song only became available on Friday May 15, fans first got a taste of it nearly a month prior on Instagram Live. how i’m feeling now has been hailed as the first “quarantine album,” as it was announced, written, recorded and released in just over a month’s time.
Charli collaborated with her usual team—including PC Music’s A.G. Cook, BJ Burton, and 100 gec’s Dylan Brady—but did so remotely, keeping in touch through calls and emails. However, Charli also made use of Zoom calls, Instagram Live, and Twitter to communicate directly with fans through the entire process. They were able to submit beats, lyrics, and custom artwork. Some of the fan creations were arguably better than the official arts chosen for the record’s singles. This kind of fan art is not new, but direct embrace from the artist is.
While it may seem that an album thrown together on such short notice might suffer, it’s worth noting that this is not the first time Charli XCX has tried something like this. In December of 2017, Charli released Pop 2, her most acclaimed work to date, which was started and finished in under 3 months. In May of that year, Charli and Cook recorded an entire album in a day, though it remains unreleased. Perhaps she works best under intense pressure.
Musically, how i’m feeling now falls more in line with Charli, as she straddles the line between cold, shiny experiments like “c2.0” and lighthearted, airy pop like “forever”. The former is a reworking of “Click,” Brady’s contribution to Charli. Here, it is refitted with a voice pitched up, replaying the hook “I’m next level / so legit with all my clique;” that last word is repeated so many times it loses meaning, becoming a piece of scenery as Charli comes back in to finish out the song.
The latter was released as the record’s first single, and is an ode to her long term partner. It is one of many tracks on now about their relationship, which, prior to isolation, was mostly long distance. Spending a long period of time together is new for them and resulted in some of the most personal work of Charli’s career. “forever” is built with the knowledge that, while their routine has been thrown off, the closeness formed through quarantine won’t wear off when it ends: “Said I’ll love you forever / I know in the future / We won’t see each other / Cold just like December / But I will always love you.
Charli explores the dynamics of her relationship further on the excellent “7 years.” The song breaks down the ups and downs she and her partner have had since first becoming a couple in 2013: “Could’ve fallen, but we only grew / So I made my house a home with you / I’m right here and it feels brand new / I used to live inside a lie with you.” Conceptually, it’s in line with songs like Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One,” a hearty defense of a relationship from the unique vantage point of many years within it. That, however, is where the similarities end. “7 years” is built on a mountain screeching mechanical beats and abrasive synths, with Charli’s voice frequently through vocoder.
how i’m feeling now only further cements Charli’s status as a one-of-a-kind talent. While pop artists in eras past have always had producers considered “the hot new thing” to work with and every top 40 pop song was produced by Calvin Harris or David Guetta, Charli has eschewed mainstream trends. She’s instead found collaborators she trusts, who both bring out the best from her and create a cult of taste.
Eric Bennett | @seething_coast
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