Charli XCX, “how i’m feeling now”

Charli XCX
how i’m feeling now
ASYLUM
8/10

When self-isolation and the precautions of COVID-19 became the new normal mid-March, we were all confronted with a certain sense of urgency. As opposed to the major artists who delayed some of 2020’s most highly anticipated albums to late-summer release dates, in true workaholic fashion Charli XCX decided to scrap whatever she had planned initially for the year and make an album influenced by our current Zoom-centric times. On how i’m feeling now, the pop-music trailblazer deals with what’s in front of her, which is mostly her boyfriend and isolation partner Huck Kwong and the ghosts of parties past.

Her sixth release for Asylum Records is undeniably her most vulnerable and necessary album to date. For years, Charli has been a ringleader for superb collaborations, a connoisseur of hedonism, tears, and sweaty, glittery bodies. Now, she’s stuck in her home with her own anxieties and tumultuous relationship. It’s almost comical when she cries uninspired on the dizzying and mournful “Anthems,” since she’s shown through eleven songs what kind of clarity might come from confrontation and creative pressure.

The quick evolution from last September’s Charli to how i’m feeling now is a testament to how fast real life can change. Charli’s fever-dream pop isn’t flush with fast cars and dancing through all hours of the early morning. Instead, it’s trying on that outfit you were hoping to wear (gasp) outside, only to show it off via video chat with a spotty WiFi connection. The opening track, “Pink Diamond,” written with A.G. Cook and Dijon, is an agitated spaceship battle of a track. It superficially pines after “[going] real hard,” amidst pterodactyl-crying synths. “In real life, could the club even handle us,” Charli callously questions without a real concern. It’s her id being cooped up and rolling its eyes at the colossal shift of current events. If only we could go back to shallower desires, to more glamorous problems. 

A pixelated wave of distortion drowns the record’s lead single “Forever,” finding a way to turn too much wind in a microphone and the unknowable limits of love into a timeless pop song. Unnerving dissonance, both emotionally and sonically, weaves its way into these effervescent tracks. Several of them end in frightening malfunctions and contain fits of disorienting repetition.

Charli executes an apt synthesis of vulnerability, both mechanical and human, that mirrors the world’s current unstable state. From the extremely self-critical “Detonate” to the suffocatingly cute “Claws,” how i’m feeling now’s hyper-glitch dance music is a result of the fissure in civilization’s simulation. In turn, without her endless club nights to hide in, Charli XCX reckons with her imperfect self, providing a glorious soundtrack to match.

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