Charli XCX is not an easy artist to pin down. Switching sounds and aesthetics in the blink of an eye, the British singer-songwriter seems to always be pushing the edge of the envelope in search of a new experiment. Her upcoming album, How I’m Feeling Now, seems her most ambitious. As the world bows to the COVID-19 pandemic, XCX sees it as a chance to break new ground, producing the album with the help of fans by sharing snippets, lyrics and artwork ideas via social media and asking which they prefer.
It’s hard to guess whether this rather unorthodox roll-out will work or not, but if the record’s first single, “forever,” is anything to go by, How I’m Feeling Now could be not only the most interesting, but one of the best records of 2020.
Lyrically, the track is relatively standard in its subject. XCX croons about an eternal love, promising to never fall out of love no matter what. “Knew I’d be here, be here, be here with you,” she sings, “when the roof caved in and the water fell through.” Her vocals are distinct as per usual, her British twang seeping through the heavy vocoder.
However, the track’s production is anything but standard. In typical XCX fashion, “forever” is a synth-heavy electro-ballad, but on steroids. The track zigs and zags to the point of being almost whiplash-inducing. Where the song would seemingly mellow out, it’s instead tinged with dark, wonky, mechanic waves of distortion. Its bright, goofy synths are marred by the grinding of punk-inspired effects. It’s heavy and light at the same time — a real clash of sounds that seem so different, but perfectly matched at the same time.
Again, it’s hard to know how this unusual roll-out will work. “Forever” offers a taste of what is to come, but given that the album is still in the midst of production, it offers little in the way of insight for what the album’s overall sound will be. What it does offer, however, is the comfort of knowing that even a global pandemic won’t stop Charli XCX from keeping it interesting.
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