With the rise of a global pandemic and the world thrust into lockdown, it wasn’t long until talk turned to the prediction of a cultural renaissance. Constant reminders that Shakespeare’s King Lear, Newton’s theory of gravity and Bocaccio’s Decameron were all developed in isolation plagued everybody’s feed and the pressure of productivity was well and truly on. Yet, for many, languages are still left unlearned, instruments untouched, books unwritten, to-do lists unchecked.
Unsurprisingly, however, there is one woman who has stepped up to the challenge: boundary pushing pop star Charli XCX. Setting herself the mammoth task of writing, recording and mixing an album is just a six-week period, the futurist laid bare her creative process to create the first album fully conceived in the age of COVID-19. The project has been one of interdependence as Charli wielded the power of her sizeable social media following to help her write verses, make music videos and collaborate on artwork for the album. The result? how I’m feeling now is a boundary-pushing assault on the senses that beautifully captures the perturbed zeitgeist of today.
“how I’m feeling now is a boundary-pushing assault on the senses that beautifully captures the perturbed zeitgeist of today”
At the top of the album, Charli speak-raps in her irresistible home county drawl over sickly-sweet techno-pop opener pink diamond. Its throbbing, pained core is wrapped in a sugary gloss as the singer yearns for a return to hedonistic nightlife while she is dressed-up and ready in front of a webcam’s glaring eye – “Every single night kinda feels the same/I’m a pink diamond I need space”.
Next comes forever and claws, the first two singles to precede the album’s release. The former is the closest thing we get to a ballad and chronicles unwavering devotion amid the backdrop of clattering synths and a shuddering bass, the latter is an addictive slice of bubblegum pop with a glitching backbeat and a doe-eyed delivery. Already, the album’s leanings towards PC Music, a record label and/or sub-genre known for its exaggerated and experimental take on pop music, are apparent. Bright textures, maximalism and pitch-shifted trance are the orders of the day in a sound that harks back to Charli’s seminal 2016 EP, Vroom Vroom.
For an artist famed for filling her records with impressive guest features, one of the most noticeable things on how i’m feeling now is how especially vulnerable and soul-baring Charli seems by simply going solo. On standout track i finally understand, she laments the effect of self-loathing on her relationship – “My therapist says I hate myself really bad/You tell me it’s fine, let me cry and hug it out” – to the sounds of a garage-tinged club banger that could easily send any dawn chorus dancefloor into a riot. The depth of emotionally maturity embedded in such slickly produced music reveals a fully-formed artist who is in total control of her sound.
What’s more, despite seemingly reinventing her sonic with the advent of each new era, Charli is not afraid to revisit old gems. c2.0, a reworking of Click from her self-titled 2019 album, hypnotises with its repetitive android warble and is the fabulously weird cyberpop you would expect to find on Sophie the Robot’s running playlist. Then, previously unreleased fan favourite party 4 u yearns for a lost love as Charli belts her autotuned vocals; the loneliness pouring out of the verses is sure so resonate with isolated listeners – “I wish you’d get here, kiss my face/Instead you’re somewhere far away”.
“The depth of emotionally maturity embedded in such slickly produced music reveals a fully-formed artist who is in total control of her sound.”
As the tail end of the album rolls around, Charli shows no signs of slowing down her manic electro joyride. Brimming with hectic energy and a nostalgia of pre-corona party culture, anthems is an ecstasy-driven pop clanger characteristic of PC Music producer Danny L. Harle. It’s as if he has managed to catch the essence of a mid-rave fizzing tummy and plug it in to Ableton Live. After hopping from almost every thinkable sub-genre of pop, Charli settles on Eurodance for her closing as the outro of visions finishes with a thrash fit for a round on a Dance Dance Revolution mat.
Although only time will tell, we predict that the genius of this album will lie in its longevity. Not only is the anxiety-ridden mood of a chaotic world perfectly encapsulated, but when said world returns to normality, the album’s bedroom rave charm won’t wear off on the dancefloor. Charli XCX has gifted us with pioneering pop music, as she always does, and given us validation with how we are all feeling now.