Words by Brinsley Chadavenzi
Restraint and freedom are two ends of the same spectrum, right? With restraint; there’s a freedom in being proud of your choices and commitments. With freedom; there’s a proudness to not give in restraint but all the room to be overwhelmed by excess of choice.
These two states are the best ways to explain the last 2 records pop-futurist Charli XCX has put out. 2019’s ‘Charli’ has the freedom of a joyride moving across a wide sea of friends and sounds; blending electropop, synth ballads, industrial tones and flirtations with dancehall. 2020’s ‘How I’m Feeling Now’ draws from the same world from synthesisers but feels them inside and into claustrophobic settings and commits to peeling emotions.
Songs like c2.0 is a spiritual helium of absorbing all your best friends qualities and individualising them into yourself. The trifecta attitudes of Charli, Kim Petras and Tommy Cash gets honed into a piece of spiritual honouring. The ambient bells from ‘Click’ return from Charli almost from the other side, hollowed out but still recognisable. A cherishing of the past through sound.
Her voice does the heaviest lifting on ‘how i’m feeling now’ being placed in; funhouse shapes, stretched across pitches and formants, sometimes being the sole instrument of a moment and electronically transformed. The tension between ambience and distortion, hyperactive drums and stillness, big anthemic melodies and more subtle washes of sound; these fragments were teased across her prior catalogue but ‘how I’m feeling’ intensifies these techniques into emotional registers that are uniquely Charli’s.
All these shapes – both jagged and soft express the frenetic nature of being restrained in a geographical space as well as being restrained in feelings that only be experienced in larger social settings. How I’m Feeling Now is a record made in a short timeframe which puts the focus on honest self-analysis teaching us what the power of emotional honesty and transparency can lead to. If there’s music made for lockdown by a lockdown to feel to, Charli covers us with flying colours.