The album art for ‘how i’m feeling now’ Instagram / charli_xcx

Despite its widespread critical acclaim, one could be forgiven for having low expectations for Charli XCX's how i’m feeling now. The simplistic album art, lack of features and undying adherence to lower case letters (can we get rid of this cliche now?) all betray its informal, DIY creative process. Created at Charli’s home in only six weeks amid a world-wide lockdown, the album, in both its presentation and sound, lacks the polish and glamour of its predecessor, Charli (2019). However, Charli XCX leans into the raw sound necessitated by this pandemic and creates an album which paradoxically manages to reflect the cacophonous chaos of today whilst remaining an accessible sliver of tomorrow’s electro-pop.

Ironically then, the album opens with ‘pink diamond’, perhaps its least ‘pop-like’ track. It introduces a motif repeated throughout the album; a harsh, shapeshifting, digital soundscape contrasted against Charli’s relatively delicate, dreamy, organic vocals. Even with its softer, more sentimental lyrics (‘I will always love you/ I’ll love you forever’), ‘forever’ opens with discordant and dissonant noise, which returns periodically to punctuate Charli’s verses. The combination of Charli’s mostly unchanging vocal delivery against a chaotic sonic backdrop emphasises that despite her incessant yearning for friends, love and freedom, she is not in control. No doubt a feeling most of us have experienced lately.

This frustration is also exemplified in the lyrics on the album. Their repetitive nature, which might be chalked up to lazy songwriting, actually works to Charli’s advantage (for example, the phrase ‘I like’ is repeated 54 times in 'claws', a 2:30 song). This unequivocally demonstrates the stark divide between the stale, dull mental state caused by lockdown and the wild, head-spinning reality of the external world.

"Charli, with her range of influences and contempt for convention, delivers an experience that firmly transplants the listener into her emotional landscape"

In this sense the album not only captures Charli’s mindset, but to some extent, describes how most of us feel at this time. The album flickers erratically in and out of focus, heavily distorted and undifferentiated one moment, crisp and clean the next. In a sixty second period the listener could be drowned in a wave of sound and then suddenly resuscitated by Charli’s soothing, sentimental singing. Most listeners will relate to this chaos; the ten-day hobbies, the sporadic bouts of studying, the dizzying flurry of lockdown changes.

In a way the album is an emotional panacea. Charli, with her range of influences and contempt for convention, delivers an experience that firmly transplants the listener into her emotional landscape, where they witness every stray thought and fleeting feeling. Although the sound varies wildly within songs, it is always underscored by Charli’s unchanging dreamy vocals, resulting in an intimate, immersive, psychological experience.


Mountain View

Read More: Perfume Genius and Moses Sumney: Investigations into desire and longing

Despite the transience and unpredictability of the sound of each individual song, they largely merge into a homogeneous album. The instrumentation used for each track only varies marginally and the themes do not stray far from the banal pop tropes of partying, romance and friendship. This might be offset if the album had a clear narrative, a story; but here the album is hampered by the very chaos it thrives on.

As tempting as it might be, I’m reluctant to term this record ‘the lockdown album’, as some critics have. Although it is clearly influenced by the current crisis, both in composition and creation, it lacks seriousness and gravity. At (rare) moments the suffocating, menacing electronic beats seem inappropriate given Charli’s vapid, sometimes frivolous lyrics; as if you had Pitbull rapping over Joy Division (such love would definitely tear me apart...). And of course, that’s okay. In this album Charli rose to a mammoth task, fearlessly baring her every thought and emotion without devolving into unbridled chaos, all the while retaining her relatable pop aesthetic. For many of us this album will adequately allay our lockdown frustrations.

However, as Charli cautiously avoids straying outside the realm of ‘pop’ music and sticks to relatively trivial themes, the album is prevented from expressing a more diverse, heavy range of emotion. The album is certainly impressive, entertaining and emotive, but as the world faces towering death tolls and unprecedented economic recession, in my view labelling this as the definitive lockdown album is short-sighted.