Only six weeks after an Instagram Live surprise announcement for her upcoming album, British electro-pop artist Charli XCX delivered her sixth full-length project “how i’m feeling now” May 15. Fresh off her career-elevating project “Charli” (2019), the songwriter’s self-proclaimed workaholism remains untamed despite self-isolation.
By virtue of creating an album during a global pandemic, “how i’m feeling now” — comprised of 11 new tracks — revolutionizes the transparency of an album construction process on all fronts. Aside from the album’s lead single “forever,” the 27-year-old’s new album was entirely written and recorded in the confines of her Los Angeles home where she’s living with her boyfriend, Huck Kwong, and her two managers, according to an Instagram Live session on April 7. From writing lyrics on Instagram Live sessions, to asking fans for feedback on unreleased a capellas and filming a music video with only a personal green screen, Charli’s six-week endeavor epitomizes a generation closer than ever despite social distancing mandates.
The groundbreaking project delivers empathetic, refreshing lyricism while continuing to convey her gnarly yet polished style. Charli’s lyrical shift can be explained by the events prior to and during her life in a pandemic.
Not long before shutdowns began, the perpetually hustling icon felt the emotions of loneliness and yearning from her long-distance relationship caving in, according to an Instagram announcement on April 7. Charli says she decided to encapsulate those feelings of longing into the heartfelt single “forever” as she sings, “I know in the future / We won’t see each other / Cold just like December / But I will always love you.”
This dedicated track coupled with the unexpected opportunity to live with her partner during quarantine catalyzed a hiatus away from her club anthems this time around. As she entered the album creation process, Charli stated on an Instagram Live session April 7 that this album would be entirely devoted to her boyfriend.
Charli mostly held true to her promise as tracks including “claws,” “i finally understand” and “party 4 u” illustrate a relationship strengthened in the midst of a societal standstill. On “7 years,” Charli reminisces about moments of uncertainty and growth throughout her seven-year relationship with her partner: “So hard things that we’ve been through / Could’ve fallen, but we only grew / So I made my house a home with you / I’m right here and it feels brand new.”
Moments where the album loses thematic focus only compliment the project by more fully encompassing the emotions that accompany societal isolation. The energized synthesizer and knocking bass drum from “anthems” expresses a caged desire to rage as the avid partier effervescently sings, “”I’m so bored / Wake up late, eat some cereal / Try my best to be physical / Lose myself in a TV show.” This song plays a dichotomous role of her yearning to dance to a club anthem while simultaneously creating her own stay-at-home anthem — a theme anyone going stir crazy will surely empathize with.
Sonically, the album amplifies the gritty flavors from “Charli” as drum kits are industrial and reverberated, the basslines are punchy and driving, and ad-libs are distorted while maintaining their gummy playfulness. These elements conjoined with the artist’s vocals make the cuts passionate and driven regardless of the lyrical focus.
Most notably, the album’s opening track, “pink diamond” features a bouncy synthesizer, damp guitar riffs, static drums and sound effects seemingly out of a 1980s Atari game. The result is a monstrous track that sets the stage for the remaining thirty-six minutes.
Shortly after releasing the album, Charli retrospectively reviewed the process with an Instagram post stating she has never “made an album in such a whirlwind where I’ve been so open & felt so constantly inspired & energized throughout.” With a self-imposed six-week deadline, limited physical interaction with her production team and a commitment to remain transparent throughout the process, the British hitmaker raised the bar for her contemporaries as she has delivered the first critically acclaimed quarantine album.
Whether or not this stark shift in lyrical vulnerability and instrumental rawness may hold true as Charli continues to develop her career is uncertain, but there’s no denying this album serves to capture her feelings dissonance, apprehension, loneliness and boredom derived from this moment in time and enshrines those emotions as a thirty-eight minute cultural artifact.
“how i’m feeling now” is available now on Apple Music and Spotify.