Charli XCX's new album, How I'm Feeling Now, blisters at the seams, sputters almost outside the reach of quarantine. Created entirely at home and with significant input from fans online, Charlotte Aitchison's latest record as Charli XCX, arriving just months after her highly anticipated third album, Charli, is a document of the human in social isolation. It's an artifact of the era of COVID-19.
The busyness and stress of a workaholic's life put on hold is apparent from the immediate textures of How I'm Feeling Now's songs. "Pink Diamond," about getting dressed up to Zoom with friends, sparks and hisses, flying off the walls of the listener's bedroom with a frenetic energy that only appeared occasionally in her last album, like in the last 30 seconds of "Click," which is remixed as "c2.0" on the new LP. Functioning like Kanye West's short album era, although with more substance than his releases, How I'm Feeling Now packs a quick, kinetic punch — as if all of the angst and stress of early quarantine were mixed into a potent shot glass of highly active sound.
The abrasiveness of longtime collaborator and creative director A.G. Cook's production has become even more apparent on this record, which he made in collaboration with BJ Burton. Where Charli and Pop2 were covered in a nice sheen of high definition, sleek gloss, How I'm Feeling Now exposes all the wires, mainframe and motherboard that lie underneath. Rising star in the PC Music scene, Dylan Brady also produced some cuts on this record, such as the addictive second single, "Claws," whose repetitive refrain numb many a slow night of early quarantine.
As she has stated on Twitter and Instagram, Aitchison felt particularly "fragile" after the creative high of working on the record. She described the abnormal process of making the project, with her partner (who is the subject of nearly all the songs) just a few feet away from her, as a "head rush." Moreover, the album was created over a series of weekly Zoom sessions, which featured famous guests, with input from fans in Instagram group chats and Instagram Lives.
Back when quarantine and coronavirus were the main concerns plaguing our country, Aitchison, speaking for many of her generation, plainly laid out her emotions online after she created this new album. Echoing the hopelessness so many of us feel, she explained how purposeless she felt without work ahead of her. Quarantine forced teens and young adults all around America and the world to put their lives on hold for a few months.
More than any other pop star in the current landscape, Charli XCX is arguably the most online. Quarantine only highlighted her postmodern aesthetic even more, pushing her persona even further onto the Internet. Aitchison has often been heralded as the pop star of the future, but, as How I'm Feeling Now makes clear, her sound is one of the present.
Despite being just over two weeks old, How I'm Feeling Now has already become a strange cultural artifact. It's a testament to how quickly society moves in this day and age, especially when it is forced to move online. The present in America is as elusive and mercurial as the political landscape, shifting with the tides of public opinion. While quarantine and COVID-19 are still very much apart of the national conversation, it seems like they have passed ages ago. Charli XCX's How I'm Feeling Now is a testament to that time of pause and reflection, a time capsule of when the biggest threat to our country was a virus. Then, we tried our best to stay away from each other, observing strict social distancing. Now, we must band together, and continue a centuries-long fight for justice.