Charli XCX’s ‘how i’m feeling now’ is the soundtrack to life in lockdown – album review

Charli XCX’s ‘how i’m feeling now’ is the soundtrack to life in lockdown – album review
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At first listen, I did not like this album. I found myself uninterested 2 songs in, skimmed through the rest, and decided I wasn’t a fan of the whole songs-that-sound-like-they’ve-been-recorded-from-the-radio-with-an-MP3-player vibe. But, after another proper listen (and about a dozen more since), I’ll hold my hands up: I was SO wrong.

The DIY aspect of the album that first deterred me is what I’ve now come to love about it, adding an unexpected layer of charm to a record that directly contrasts with the polished feel we’ve come to expect of albums nowadays. This is unsurprising given that the album was created in under 6 weeks (just 38 days!) from the singer’s home studio as a self-inflicted quarantine project that puts my efforts in productivity to shame. ‘how i’m feeling now’ pioneers the way we create art in this COVID-dominated era and serves as an exemplary work of its time, representative of the full isolation experience; from boredom, missing the homies, to an existential crisis-induced longing to party – you name it, Charli’s covered it! 

The album starts off with the antagonistic ‘pink diamond’, reminiscent of Charli’s 2016 hit ‘Vroom Vroom’, combining her deadpan English accent with laser-fused synths in a way that makes me want to chop my hair into a blunt black bob and drive around town at night in a neon Cadillac with the roof down. This is sharply contrasted by the bubblegum pop tones of  ‘forever’, a sweet ode to the singer’s boyfriend as she immortalises her promise to love him for…well, forever.

The album doesn’t particularly push the boat out lyrically, and ‘claws’ is testament to this with the chorus ringing out the same lacklustre statement:

I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you
I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you
I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you
I like, I like, I like, I like, I like everything about you

But what the song lacks lyrically, it makes up for with hard-hitting bass-heavy verses that serve as choruses in their own right. ‘7 years’ and ‘detonate’ are probably the most forgettable songs on the album, but the record picks back up again with ‘enemy’ and its nostalgic 80s synths underpinning an introspective narrative on the singer’s relationship with boyfriend Huck Kwong. Charli herself affirms this:

A song based around the phrase ‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer’. I kept thinking about how if you can have someone so close to you, does that mean that one day they could become your biggest enemy? They’d have the most ammunition. I don’t actually think my boyfriend is someone who would turn on me if anything went wrong, but I was playing off that idea a little bit.

The last half of the album is where Charli’s affinity for creating super catchy club bops comes to light. ‘i finally understand’ has strong remnants of the UK garage scene, and ‘c2.0’ is adrenaline-fuelling with its strong use of autotune (at times it’s like chipmunks on crack) and racing beats, making Dylan Brady’s (100 gecs) presence as a producer felt. ‘party 4 u’ is typical of the definitive Charli XCX sound; it’s spacey, futuristic, and overlaid with sweetly sung harmonies before the reverberating bass kicks in. As the least experimental song on the album, it’s easy to see how a track as deep within the comfort zone as this became an instant fan favourite as a previously unreleased hit.

The album rounds off on an unconventional high with two of the biggest dance tracks on the album. ‘anthems’ is hectic, tumultuous, and glitchy, but in the best way possible. The song perfectly captures the chaos of the times we’re in and the desire to let loose, accompanied by ’visions’ with its littering of distorted bass and a rave nature that reiterates Charli’s party animal spirit and reinforces it as a fitting closing statement to the style and theme of ‘how i’m feeling now’ – an ode to life in lockdown. 

Favourite song: i finally understand

Favourite lyric: I’m so bored, wake up late, eat some cereal, try my best to be physical, lose myself in a TV show

Rating: 8/10

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Lucinda