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how i'm feeling now: the Quintessential Quarantine Album by Charli XCX

The English pop genius has spontaneously crafted a record that perfectly encapsulates the feeling of isolation that millions are experiencing right now.

Originally published on 5/28/20.

Charlotte Aitchison, aka Charli XCX, has had a very interesting career indeed. Over the past several years, she has evolved from largely blending into the mainstream pop landscape to being one of the most creative and forward-thinking artists in modern pop music. Collaborating extensively with the British electronic music label PC Music, Aitchison has built a downright thrilling sound that uniquely mixes mainstream pop aesthetics with synthesized chaos. She has come a long way from being the featured artist on that one track by a certain Australian rapper with a rapidly declining career.

For quite some time now, millions and millions of people all over the globe have been quarantining themselves in their own homes to keep from catching and spreading coronavirus. While doing the same, Aitchison felt the creative juices start to flow, and decided to start working on the album she had promised to make back in November. Announcing it in April and releasing it in May, nearly the entirety of how i’m feeling now was written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered over the course of a month. This, of course, is no small feat on its own, but when considering how strong the overall album is, it becomes nothing short of a marvel.

While making how i’m feeling now, Aitchison notably used the recent rise of the video chat platform Zoom to her advantage; during the creation of the album, she held several Zoom conversations with fans, where they would exchange ideas and, at one point, clips for a music video (for the single “forever”). She also regularly updated fans on social media regarding the progress being made on the record. This not only allowed thousands of people to interact with their favorite artist, but created a symbiotic relationship with fans, as well. Really, this kind of thing could only have taken place during an unprecedented pandemic.

how i’m feeling now is the latest helping of the futuristic experimental pop sound Aitchison perfected on Charli, with creative production, strong lyrics, catchy hooks, and a wonderful balance between the odd and the familiar. Where Charli’s production was glitzy and bubbly, the sound of how i’m feeling now is noticeably more lo-fi and rough – and of course it is, because this album was made in a month. The production characteristics that Aitchison’s music is now known for are still very much here, though; poppy, synth-heavy instrumentals with prominent experimental elements, the two halves balanced in a totally unique way. Heavy distortion and one-of-a-kind sounds are all over how i’m feeling now, blending with catchy pop melodies and serving as more reason why Charli XCX and her associates should be considered pioneers of a new sound. Electronic music artist and PC Music label head A. G. Cook produced most of the tracks on the album, with Danny L Harle, BJ Burton, and 100 gecs’ Dylan Brady contributing, as well.

Lyrically, while how i’m feeling now covers many of the same subjects Aitchison has written about for most of her career – love, relationships, and occasional hedonism – there are a few tracks that are very specific to the time we are currently living in (at the time of this review’s publishing, of course). These three tracks, “c2.0,” “party 4 u,” and “anthems,” all come bunched together near the end of the album, a move that was clearly intentional. All three songs deal with a different aspect of the sadness and feelings of isolation that countless people have had to face over the past few months while quarantining themselves. On “c2.0,” which also serves as a remix of Charli standout “Click” – hence the title – Aitchison laments not being able to be with her friends and loved ones. Meanwhile, “anthems” details the intense boredom she experiences all by herself and the resulting desperation for social interaction.

“party 4 u,” though, is the most lyrically striking track here. Written years ago but never officially released (yet still becoming a fan favorite), the song has now found a home during this pandemic. Thematically, the song details a party thrown for a significant other that he or she has not yet shown up to. Originally, the song served as an excellent depiction of a potentially rocky relationship; in the context of this pandemic, though, the party now comes across as something Aitchison is anticipating after there’s no longer any need for social distancing (the lyric “birthday cake in August, but you were born 19th of June” helps bring credibility to this interpretation). Additionally, the distance between this couple could now be interpreted as the result of the significant other being too anxious to go out in public, despite people being able to throw parties again at that point. The way this track has been repurposed without necessarily changing any lyrics is nothing short of ingenious, and this helps cement “party 4 u” as one of the finest songs on how i’m feeling now.

There are, however, some noticeable flaws here. Firstly, “7 years” and “detonate” aren’t as well-mixed as the other songs; something just seems off about how these two tracks sound compared to the rest of the album. The song “enemy,” while a strong track, could have benefitted from a slightly more interesting arrangement, as well. Meanwhile, previously-released single “i finally understand” is by far the weakest song on the album; while the production is fine and the hook is catchy, the vocal melodies never go anywhere in particular and the song fizzles out before it gets truly interesting.

Still, how i’m feeling now is an album that is very much of the moment, an album that effectively captures what it is to live in quarantine while simultaneously giving us all something to play at parties once this is all over. On top of that, it’s a wonderfully well-crafted album despite how little time it took to construct it, serving as yet another example of Aitchison’s creativity. It does have its problems here and there, and it’s not the most satisfying album I’ve heard this year, but overall it’s a very strong record that continues to push the boundaries of pop music. And this thing was made in one month; that’s just amazing.


Listen to how i'm feeling now on Apple Music or Spotify below.

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