The golden rule of online video conferencing in 2020 is to not post the link online for any rando to join, but Charli XCX broke that rule many, many times during the creation of her album, which was recorded primarily in front of a live audience on Zoom. Charli has always been a rule breaker, and in the most restricted year of her life she has managed to break the barriers and reach more people than ever. Despite having 100% less features compared to her previous self-titled album, she is more collaborative than ever, this time with her own audience. Single covers were chosen by Twitter poll, music videos were edited from submissions, and even a song like anthems was co-written by her fans. Even in an age of global isolation and social distancing, she has written her most personal, intimate, and relatable music of her discography, as if she has held on to the secret connection between us all that has been frayed by the six feet that we distance ourselves with.
how i'm feeling now is her self-titled's polar opposite twin. While her 2019 album was the maximalist representation of Charli at her peak, the new record is the minimal snapshot of Charli at her lowest as she struggles to understand how to live her new life of external and internal panic. On detonate, she mirrors the closed-in walls of her quarantine home with her fear of getting too close in her relationships, worried that she would explode if either became too much. On c2.0, a remix of her previous Click, she is forced to consider what happens when the friends she rode high with in 2019 are no longer able to come by in 2020. And on anthems, Charli parties her way through the mundane tasks of stay-at-home life, even though the thoughts of real partying still creeps up in the back of her mind and the song's chorus.
While the self-titled album may have only taken a half-step into the realm of experimental pop production, how i'm feeling now takes a complete dive into the noisy and chaotic sounds of hyperpop. The album opens and closes with the three biggest bangers: pink diamond, anthems, and visions, all of which feature blaring synthesizers, distorted bass, and rapid drum loops. Charli goes wild on each track too; she raps her way through the first and goes deep into her high register on the last two, though her vocals are certainly aided by some aggressive pitch shifting and autotune. The other tracks are softer on the ears but keep up the freaky production choices. claws is littered with a high-pitched something playing on constant loop over an incessant "I like I like I like I like" chorus; this song is the musical equivalent of a sugar rush. c2.0 has a similarly repetitive introduction made from looped samples of Click that are pitched higher and higher as the track progresses.
However, the best tracks on the albums occur when the production takes a cooldown and Charli starts to sing some heartfelt balladry about the troubles of romance. forever, the album's lead single, has the album's best hook, with Charli promising to always keep some love in her heart even when it's over. And the threat of a tense relationship is brought up again on detonate, where Charli is worried about how she might push her significant other away. This track is backed with twinkling synth keys plotted in the background before chopped up vocals build in the outro. And the standout enemy has Charli wondering if her she has actually found her soulmate or if she's about to be hurt real hard.
A year ago, Charli ruled the biggest parties in the world; nowadays, parties aren't even socially acceptable. But that hasn't stopped her from making the best of her opportunities, whether that be hosting virtual parties on Zoom or on Minecraft. how i'm feeling now isn't just an album about quarantine; it's about changing, adapting, and creating something amazing. And if anything has characterized this past year, it has been the ability of whole global societies to adapt and create something new, even if out of necessity. And there is nobody else in music who has embodied this ideal more than Charli with this new album. No other album is more deserving of the title "Album of the Year".
Favorites: forever, detonate, enemy, c2.0, visions