Published May 15, 2020Charli XCX's music is best when it sounds like it's hurtling recklessly from the internet's depths, synthetic bursts of scrambled emotion. Her 2019 full-length Charli was a solid outing, but it suffered from its polish – it felt too considered, too glossy. how i'm feeling now, her caustic new "quarantine album," corrects that with a love-drunk dive into skull-rattling noise.
The acidic corrosion of opener "pink diamond"; the waves of noise that wash across "forever"; the understated garage-pop of "I finally understand" — the record sounds as though it's disintegrating as it comes through the speakers. Still, there are moments of softness among all the wreckage — the ringing guitar that hums beneath "enemy" and the airy twinkle of "detonate" are the tender eye of how i'm feeling now's storm.
The record ends on Charli's strongest three-song run since her 2017 magnum opus Pop 2, kicked off by "party 4 u," a near-mythic cut that's been circulating in live clips for years. The long-awaited official version ditches the squealing breakdown for a gentler kind of party, a gradual build and release that floats out on the screams of a crowd.
It's followed by the aptly named "anthems," which is both the record's strongest instant-classic contender and the most frenetic thing Charli's made in recent memory. Its joyous, metallic assault is the most obvious "quarantine" song here, about friends and dirt and fresh air, about losing yourself in a crowd. "visions" closes things out on a wave of techno-mutilation, a ferocious fantasy of whatever world waits on the horizon.
Though it lacks the alien opalescence of Charli's best record, how i'm feeling now contains a different sort of thrilling delirium. It's fun and sometimes silly, made on the fly and under a tight deadline. But it's desperate too — a frenzied call for release, an ode to the love that keeps us going, and further proof that no other pop artist today can make the digital sound so disarmingly human.