Album Review: Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now

By Kiah Easton, Editorial Director
[Asylum/Atlantic; 2020]
Rating:  8/10

Key tracks: “forever”, “7 years”, “anthem”

how i’m feeling now was born within and shaped by the current state of the world. Charli XCX, less than a year since her last project Charli, capitalized on the unique situations of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than growing sedentary in isolation, she took action using the internet to collaborate – not only with peers, but also fans.

Potentially one of Charli’s most collaborative albums yet, she brainstormed with fans live through her Instagram, which allowed them to have considerable input on the lyrics and structure of her demo tracks. Additionally, covers for her three singles were chosen by her fans, then each adapted by three separate artists and each final cover released with each song. Due to the process and climate attached to the album, how i’m feeling now has an organic, raw, and crowdsourced feeling to it. With the power of the internet the creation of art is more and more able to be stitched together from thousands of original sources. This atmosphere impacts heavily the nature of the project on a fundamental level.

“forever” is a rough, uncut ballad – full of harsh noise and reality of what love forever sometimes means. “Now we gotta let this go / drove the car off the road”: sometimes, you have to get out of the relationship, even if you’re still in love. “I’ll love you forever / Even when we’re not together”: love continues even when closeness doesn’t; sometimes people touch you in a way that lasts forever, regardless of the circumstances. Charli quickly released a music video to go along with “forever” as the album’s first single. Flashing fan-submitted video clips, the film is organic, imperfect and authentic. Maybe it has something to do with the lack of human interaction people are collectively enduring – but the clips are stitched together in a way that feels like a burst of humanity and emotion, enough to bring tears to your eyes. Although the video included many aspects of life, it highlighted love, relationships and deep feelings which parallel the themes of how i’m feeling now.

Read more: Album Review: Charli XCX – Vroom Vroom

Bouncing back and forth, Charli’s feelings on this album are varied. “7 years”  is a recognition of the duration and progress of a relationship, potentially with Charli’s boyfriend Huck Kwong. In an interview with Zane Lowe for Apple Music, Charli spoke about Kwong, saying that before the quarantine, their relationship was “almost at the end,” but after living together for two months, their relationship was strengthened tremendously.

Feelings of rebirth and confidence are represented in lyrics such as “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 and now we’re honest and it feels so good”. The contents of this song touch on a larger theme of the project – the immediacy of emotions. Titled how i’m feeling now, many topics are reflective of Charli’s emotions in the moment. With a deadline of a little over a month, she had little time to reflect deeply; rather, she drew from the bubbling surface of emotions and grabbed what was fresh.

“anthem” is just that – a quarantine anthem. Charli strayed from writing an album  directly about being locked inside during this weird time – “Anthem” indulges in the topicality of our shared pandemic experience. Produced by the up-and-coming Dylan Brady and PC Music’s Danny L Harle, it is a rave pop-hybrid, electrifying and rhythmic; clicky and percussive bass pounds behind Charli’s high-energy lyrics. Like lots of people right now, this song feels like pent-up energy, ready to explode. The juxtaposition between the club-y instrumental and lyrics like “Hello, I’m so bored / Wake up eat some cereal,” reflect the current feelings of many.

how i’m feeling now is many things; an album about love, pain and the things in between. Charli is a glaring example of particular artists ability to move away and work outside of traditional industry settings. With her home as a studio and friends and fans as contributors from afar, this album feels raw and stitched together – unprocessed in the best way possible. Made under a time constraint and limited resources, the elements feel laid down quickly in a way that fits. The album feels rushed, but that doesn’t reduce its quality; it feels rushed in the same way your words when you are emphatically trying to explain your feelings to someone who’s actually listening. Relatability is a core element in enjoying Charli’s music. She writes about her emotions, uninhibited by complex lyrics and abstraction – Charli XCX’s work is honest, immediate and beautiful.

Listen here:

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