Whereas one other contender conceivably might come up, it’s a secure wager that Charli XCX’s “How I’m Feeling Now” is the primary album by a significant artist to be made fully in COVID-19 quarantine. This hyper-prolific performer, songwriter and producer — who sarcastically waited almost 5 years to launch her third official album, final 12 months’s stellar “Charli,” regardless of dropping two mixtapes and dozens of stray songs throughout that point — first introduced this undertaking on April sixth, giving herself a tough deadline of Might 15th. “It’ll be very DIY — I’ll make it from scratch, very indicative of the instances we’re in,” she mentioned throughout a Zoom session with followers. And regardless of some barely nervous-sounding emails from her reps in current weeks saying that advance streams could be arriving later than initially anticipated, certain sufficient, there it was in our inbox Thursday morning, 14 hours earlier than it was scheduled to be launched to the world.
And what does one of many world’s high pop innovators have to point out for her 38 days of labor? Loads. Whereas the album understandably doesn’t embrace her typical slumber occasion’s price of A-list collaborators (“Charli” featured everybody from Lizzo and Haim to Troye Sivan and Christine & the Queens), “How I’m Feeling Now” could be very a lot a continuation of the progressive futurist-pop her discography has adopted over the previous 5 years. Starting with 2016’s “Vroom Vroom” EP, Charli started wholeheartedly embracing the mutant-pop sounds of Sophie and different artists orbiting the PC label: indelible melodies clashing with mechanical noises, sped-up voices and clattering, cacophonous beats. Largely in collaboration with coproducer-cowriter A.G. Cook dinner, she has been exploring the artistic limits of pop music with the adventurous mixtapes (“No. 1 Angel” and “Pop 2”) and the less-confrontational however nonetheless envelope-pushing “Charli.”
And though the 11-song “How I’m Feeling Now” is characterised a proper album somewhat than a mixtape — which by definition is looser and extra experimental — its really feels extra just like the latter than the previous. It begins off confrontationally with “Pink Diamond,” a steaming cauldron of jumbled beats, grinding chords, video-game noises and Charli chanting “I simply wanna go actual onerous!” — in different phrases, a music that may terrify anybody anticipating a music like 2014’s smash “Growth Clap” (which remains to be her greatest hit underneath her personal identify, though she co-wrote Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello’s “Senorita,” Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Icona Pop’s “I Love It”).
Whereas there are various delectable pop moments on the album, it’s much less reluctant to plunge into the muck than “Charli” was. “Without end” has a multi-tracked, autotuned repetitive melody that lyrically displays quarantine: “I’ll love you eternally — even after we’re not collectively.” “Detonate” contains masterful vocal manipulation; issues pace up with the brand new wave-flavored “I Lastly Perceive”; counterintuitively, one of many album’s sweetest melodies is on a music referred to as “Enemy.”
The manufacturing — a tag group between Cook dinner, Charli and new collaborator BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Banks, Miley Cyrus, early Lizzo) — is, as typical, a marvel, a shape-shifting mesh of shimmering synthesizers, driving bass, onerous beats, swarms of voices and crashing mechanical sounds. However probably the most outstanding new collaborator right here is Dylan Brady of pop-deconstructionists 100 Gecs, a musically manic American duo whose debut album (referred to as, naturally, “1000 Gecs”) twists pop into much more difficult, ADD-addled shapes. After all, the duo is deeply adored by Charli, who carried out on their Sq. Backyard digital live performance on Minecraft final month. Brady makes his presence felt on three songs right here, significantly with the hyper-autotuned vocals and pulse-racing beats of “c2.0” and the wildly buzzing synth rhythms of “Anthems.”
Contemplating its brief and spontaneous gestation interval, “How I’m Feeling Now” is extra like a group of brief tales than the novel-scale “Charli” — it’s a problem to herself, a productive solution to fend off stir-craziness throughout lockdown. Nevertheless it additionally exhibits this deeply gifted and creatively stressed artist pushing the boundaries of her music virtually in actual time (which one can do virtually actually by way of her Instagram and Zoom periods), and giving tantalizing hints of what may come subsequent.