10. Ichiko Aoba – Windswept Adan
This album could be Ichiko Aoba’s identity crisis, though on the subtlest of terms. I could be projecting. There just seems to be less of… her on it; but, in all fairness, that’s contingent on the singer being personally defined by a voice and permeable space, not also the denser surrounding arrangements and instrumental narratives. Which might be a bit unreasonable. While I’ve mostly known Aoba’s music to feel cloistered — burrowed in contentment, mostly alone — this album is one of a select few cases where the singer achieves a sort of induced wanderlust, though still often doubling back on the realization of self. “Prologue” sounds like meditating mid-air in a failed zeppelin as it disintegrates in slow motion, and pardon the silly specificity. “Pilgrimage” sounds like a world’s worth of joy failing to directly resolve a deep, esoteric personal anguish, and instead fortifying the gaps around it. “Dawn in the Adan” is resilient, and one of the more grounded pieces, even as Aoba’s voice soars. It’s weird to say this as someone who’s made a bit of a hobby of overanalyzing songs, but Windswept Adan is somewhat of a rare case, where superfluous words can indeed do a disservice (more so than I’d normally admit, anyway). I don’t want to talk about it much, as I’d much rather listen to it; and, I don’t care too much what others have to say about it (I haven’t actively read any of the reviews of it yet, and doubt I will). In recent months, where sequestering has been to varying degrees of forced or self-imposed, music that perpetuates the fantasy of transportation — mystical, or pragmatic, but in this case largely the former — is a blessing. –Tristan Jones
9. Paysage d’Hiver – Im Wald
Wintherr, the sole figure behind the atmospheric black metal project Paysage d’Hiver, conceives of each of his releases as an exploration of a specific element of the mythical Paysage (“landscape”; “Hiver” = “winter”; “d'” = “of”) after which his project is named and which provides the thematic backbone for his discography. To take a few early examples: 1998’s debut demo Steineiche (“Holm oak,” a kind of dark-leafed oak tree native to Southern Europe) impressionistically details the titular tree at the dead center of the Paysage; the same year’s atypical ambient release Die Festung (“The Fortress”) is about, or musically formalizes, the fortress in which the solitary traveler can take refuge from, in Wintherr’s words, the “wintry forces of this world” (“[das] winterlichen Kräfte dieser Welt”); 1999’s notoriously noisy Kerker (“Dungeon”) refers to the dungeon that lies underneath that fortress.
Now we have the latest and most epic iteration of Wintherr’s Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, apparently his first “album” (sure why not), after some 10-odd “demos” and numerous split releases over the course of 22 years. 2020’s two-hour behemoth Im Wald (“In the Forest”) finds the reclusive artist in full control of his worldmaking practice — so in control that some have mistaken the album’s surefooted pacing and capacious sonic weave for routine, as if Wintherr were merely phoning it in. And sure, Im Wald lacks some of the gonzo nastiness of the exceedingly raw self-titled demo (1999) and the thrumming aura of 2001’s Winterkaelte, the two tapes generally taken to represent the artistic peak of Paysage d’Hiver. Yet with this here record, which is indeed recorded in higher fidelity, which is maybe a touch less melodically dynamic (and therefore operating in the vein of his previous release, 2013’s generally well-received Das Tor) than the earlier tapes, and which is, yessir, two hours long and not a second shorter — with this here record, Wintherr has successfully revealed new layers of his musical personality while satisfyingly building on the self-contained Paysage d’Hiver mythology of wind noise and razor-sharp guitars. Im Wald, in short, is a gorgeously evocative expansion of the world that Wintherr has painstakingly built over two decades, replete with dusky and ominous chord progressions, ghoulish vocals, and sufficient space between sonic climaxes to let each of them breathe.
To me, it’s also more. When I listen to “Alt” or “Le reve lucide” or 19-minute closer “So hallt es wider”, and especially when I trek through multiple tracks at a time (or dare I say the whole album), I feel fully within myself and without myself, observing and at the same time experiencing a transformation in the nature of perception, awake to the equal measure of beauty and terror in my soul and in that which lies outside myself, even things immaterial, things in between things, things for which I have no name. Possessed, it could be said, by the spirit of exploration, Wintherr has, all by himself, created an album that serves as a gripping work of art in and of itself as well as a decree on the virtues of black metal as a genre — a primer on why and how the non-representational medium of music can throw us into another world the second we hit “play”. Guitars are not dark trees; piercing screams do not exactly replicate the screeches of an owl ensconced in the pitch-black night; lo-fi production does not index the appearance and disappearance of the moon through the clouds. But in this case they do represent in their entirety one man’s efforts to bring to an audience of rapt witnesses the fruits of his experience of nature, to help this audience see with new eyes the world around them, to compel into existence a musical form which might apprehend the fall of the sparrow or the noise of the wind as it slowly, imperceptibly transforms into melody.
The German Romantic philosopher Friedrich Schiller once wrote in a letter that beauty in its purest form creates an experience that is not wholly individual nor wholly communal but some blissful, otherwise impossible combination of the two, in which a person “dwells quietly in his own hut, communing with himself and, as soon as he issues from it, with the whole [of humanity].” The promise of Im Wald, and of Paysage d’Hiver’s whole body of work, is this: staring in the face that which does not possess a face, understanding that he doesn’t understand, plowing forth “Durch Eis und Schnee und Weiss und Schnee und Eis” (“through ice and snow and white and snow and ice”), moving “Weiter, immer weiter, immer weiter, weiter, weiter, weiter” (“onward, always onward, always onward, onward, onward, onward”), the solitary traveler may one day lay down to rest knowing in its fullness the horror and splendor of his own existence, of the landscape of winter, of the world itself — and then knowing, finally, that he was able to share this knowledge with someone else. –robertsona
8. Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
The only time I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Jessie Ware live was her outdoor performance at Coachella 2018, in support of her third album, Glasshouse. As game as Ware herself was, the set itself was a strangely muted, bordering on downright lifeless affair. Candidly, Goldenvoice screwed her: scheduled against Cardi B at the neighboring main stage amid the soul-sucking heat of a Sunday afternoon in the desert, Ware, performing her weakest record, drew a sparse crowd and suffered recurrent sound problems. Months later, Ware would confide in interviews that the set and accompanying tour left her bitter, resentful, and considering leaving music altogether in favor of a newly burgeoning family (Ware had given birth 18 months before that tour and was unable to bring her daughter along) and other interests. She subsequently started a successful food podcast with her mom, had another child, and led her musical output dwindle to the occasional track dropped here and there like individually gift-wrapped treats. If this was how things ended, no one could have been upset.
Thankfully for selfish fans like myself, it didn’t. What’s Your Pleasure? immediately set a new bar in Ware’s career when it dropped this summer after numerous delays, more than fulfilling the thrilling promise of its singles. More importantly, it’s an album that served as indelible proof that a married mother of two was still our best artist at translating the romance of the nightclub, all strobing lights and skin rustling on skin — music felt rather than heard. Hearing the various singles Ware had parceled out over the prior two years — the vibrating, ascending “Spotlight”, the hitching ’80s bop of “Ooh La La”, “Save a Kiss” and its thoroughly modern take on electro-disco — in the context of the rest of the album reveals what a long gestating record What’s Your Pleasure? actually was, and all the more focused for it. Where Ware’s songs in the past were often content to simmer, here, with the aid of ace producers like Simian Mobile Disco’s James Ford and Morgan Geist, she erupts into a pop supernova, taking us to her version of an underground club in the throbbing “Soul Control” or steaming up the windows on the title track, easily the most immediate, intimate song of her career. When the after-hours finally closes up and the sun begins to rise on closer “Remember Where You Are”, there’s shades of disappointment and some inevitable regret, but what stays with you is the reassurance of hearing Ware asking, “Why don’t you take me home?” amid a crackling neo-gospel backing, nighttime fantasies transitioning to daytime realities and the comforts of just being with the ones you love.
It’s a bit of a cruel joke we won’t be able to hear What’s Your Pleasure? in its natural habitat anytime soon, but I’m looking forward to seeing Jessie Ware at the next Coachella. Preferably in a tent, in the dark, with the lights low and these relentlessly exhilarating songs slithering across the dirt and through our bones. –Rudy K.
7. Protest the Hero – Palimpsest
I’m frankly angry at Protest the Hero for making an album as good as Palimpsest. This band I had semi-proudly made a point of not caring for after Fortress, this band with their melting pot of operatic vocals, spindly math guitar and somewhat overwrought left-leaning album-long narratives — this band should not by any means be coming back with their strongest album in 2020. But redemption from the ashes is the entire narrative of Palimpsest even if it’s not the album concept. Post-vocal surgery, Rody Walker sounds like a man reborn, shredding his vocal cords to bits anew as he pirouettes atop the tracks. The band interlocks better than they have since the early days, providing mean, propulsive bangers which can pivot to the stunningly beautiful at the drop of a hat. This is also lyrically and thematically Protest the Hero’s best concept album, a strong rebound from satirically bad songs about bulldogs and Star Trek on their last few releases. In fact, Walker has made a name for himself as a writer easily on par with the band’s departed wordsmith Arif Mirabdolbaghi, albeit in a completely different style. Palimpsest is, in the simplest terms, a bunch of accessible history lessons, relevant to the world and its political state, undercutting its own self-seriousness with some well-deployed Canadian humour or, best of all, genuinely emotional character beats.
Those few moments are when it’s clear to me how far Protest the Hero have come. Kezia and Fortress were narratively complex and often compelling, but there’s only so much emotion one can glean from a song about, y’know, how humans are the real aliens like “Sequoia Throne”. The very best moments on Palimpsest hit you with a gut-punch that is as devastating as it is completely appropriate to the substance of the songs. “From the Sky”‘s heart-rending, screamalongable immolation coda; “Gardenias”‘ understated portrait of an actress driven to suicide; “All Hands” ending on a truly unexpected anticlimax that functions as a eulogy for all the forgotten, underserved workers of the world dicked over by selfish, uncaring higher powers. Even the weakest song on the album, “The Canary”, finds a stunning note of pathos when it quotes the words of Amelia Earhart in a bridge that is sure to piss off entitled nerds everywhere who just came to hear riffs: “women must pay for everything […] they do get more glory than men for comparable tasks, they also get more notoriety when they crash.”
Take these as evidence that Rody Walker has more on his mind than a list of facts and figures from history. “From the Sky” isn’t just about how the Hindenburg had an oft-forgotten Nazi symbol on its back that wasn’t shown on the famous picture of its fiery crash. It’s about how history can be written by a picture, imprinted onto our collective consciousness to the point where the image stays long after facts about it have faded, and how the omission of anything from that picture thus single-handedly changes history. The most poignant moment of the entire album is that song’s finale, Walker singing as the Hindenburg itself, begging, “… take my picture as I burn / and print it out for all to see.” Another beautiful machine corrupted by humanity, going down in flames; a symbol of our most ambitious failures. When Rody finally makes literal the subtext of Palimpsest by saying, “let’s make America great again,” he’s not using the slogan lightly — he’s doing it after an album unpacking all the bloviating, self-serving, facile lies of an administration that’s doing its very best to unravel democracy, still, as I type this blurb two days before Christmas of the worst goddamn year. Our most ambitious failure is going down in flames right now, Palimpsest argues, and the picture we take of it has to capture every tiny little detail, no matter how shameful or painful. Or there will be even worse years to come.
That this argument is somewhat cogent and packed into a tight 13-track album is already something of a minor miracle. That the album makes said argument while still being thrilling, touching, disgustingly catchy and occasionally funny is borderline breathtaking, and justification enough for its lofty placement on our list. I don’t think Palimpsest pulled me back into Protest the Hero’s orbit only because it slaps (though my god, reader, it really fucking does), nor do I think its placement here is just an indicator of a few staffers just really liking Protest the Hero (though a few of us really do). Palimpsest struck a nerve this year with the force of a dropped bowling ball because it truly transcended the scope of Protest the Hero’s previous concerns, valid as they were. This isn’t a math prog band with surprisingly progressive lyrics. It’s an album far more than the sum of its parts, an honest-to-god piece of art that stands far apart from any quibbles about genre or timeliness or aging well. A document of our times, a well-deserved reckoning and accounting, and wall-to-wall with absolute goddamn slappers — that in essence is Palimpsest. –Rowan5215
6. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
Phoebe Bridgers is above all else someone who feels very deeply about everything and everyone. Someone who ponders the big questions while simultaneously sweating the small stuff. Her lyrics are dripping with ruminating thoughts on memories and moments that are glued to her psyche. Constant references to feeling guilty about not being excited enough when a good thing happens, or the core theme of Punisher, caring for someone who hates themselves and the overwhelming burden that is to bear. What makes Bridgers’ lyrics special is the way she weaves these raw feelings and emotions into relatable situations in specific places (usually Los Angeles) and time. This all especially hits home for someone who spent their formative years as an Angelino, what with all the references to The Huntington Library, Silverlake, Elliot Smith and Los Feliz, and that bungalow from Mulholland Drive. There’s also a line about that guy who was killed at Dodger Stadium and one about those stupid celebrity spotting bus rides. All this minutiae gets you a front-row seat to a wild ride inside Phoebe Bridgers’ head. There’s something deeply nostalgic about Bridgers’ music that could only be created by someone who’s still thinking about waving back at someone who wasn’t actually waving at you fifteen years ago, and I’m not crying, you’re crying. –Trebor.
5. Run the Jewels – RTJ4
The hype around Run the Jewels has been a bit ridiculous since day one. This is fine, because Run the Jewels are, well, ridiculous. The duo have always made their brand of kinetic, slickly produced hip-hop look easy, taking advantage of their unique chemistry to create cocky but brilliant hip-hop with an energy so many lack.
RTJ4 finds longtime collaborators Killer Mike and El-P at their most political, but they haven’t forgotten how to have a great time in the process. The fact that a song as dumb but addicting as “Ooh La La” can exist on the same album as the thought-provoking “Walking in the Snow” is a large part of what makes Run the Jewels so charming. They have profound perspectives to share — “A Few Words for the Firing Squad (Radiation)” being a career highlight in this regard — but just as many moments require you to shut off your brain entirely. Regardless of the mood you’re in, you’ll find something rewarding here.
Even after four collaborative efforts, Run the Jewels feel more relevant than ever. The eccentric duo had a lot to say in 2020, and with a new song featured on the controversy-plagued Cyberpunk 2077, they’re capitalizing on their momentum. Time and time again, Killer Mike and El-P have proven to be an unstoppable force. Personally, I’ll be one of the first in line for the inevitable RTJ5. I have no doubt it will be another excellent and over-the-top effort; I just can’t help but wonder what color they’ll go with this time. –Atari
4. Paradise Lost – Obsidian
The Yorkshire gothic metal pioneers Paradise Lost have achieved something truly remarkable with their 16th album. Obsidian sounds like the band’s magnum opus with its diverse collection of songs that perfectly capture the essence of the band and their 32-year-long recording career. In consequence, their trademark bleakness and heaviness coalesce with soaring, melodic songcraft. It’s an album that can be enjoyed and appreciated by fans of various stages of their vast discography as it adroitly combines death, doom, gothic and alternative influences. Even though the band hardly ever step out of their comfort zone, the strength of their songwriting is impossible to deny. Opener “Darker Thoughts” starts with gloomy acoustic guitars and understated orchestral elements only to culminate in oppressive doom metal. “Ghosts” is an unexpectedly danceable foray into the gothic rock of the eighties, while “The Devil Embraced” juxtaposes organ and a splendid melody with a morose growl and growing tension. Frontman Nick Holmes is in his element, delivering varied vocals that range from devilish to infectiously melodic. Greg Mackintosh’s guitar play is equally impressive as his leads are supremely evocative throughout the record. The whole band sound rejuvenated, in fact, and Obsidian, despite its sombre atmosphere, feels like an introspective celebration of their entire career. Just like the volcanic glass the album takes its title from, it protects against negative energy, turning the bleakness into something wonderful. –Greg.
3. Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
While Fetch the Bolt Cutters undoubtedly deserves its high placement both here and elsewhere — frankly, any aggregated end-of-year list without it isn’t worth reading — it feels strange attempting to write about it as just another LP-sized slice of the year we are still currently in. This album came out in April, eight months ago? Just thinking about it triggers my cognitive dissonance; its cultural imprint is already so vast that it might as well have been out a decade. It’s attracted levels of attention, acclaim, controversy and successive discourse that no other album in this feature can realistically compete with (discounting the superficialities of sales figures and celebrity flim-flam). And yet, while this has been hugely exciting to observe and periodically wade into, Fetch the Bolt Cutters has not had the benefit of multiple years for the narratives to straighten out and the various strains of hype and anti-hype to sublimate into a reliable reputation. It is still enveloped in an internet-sized mushroom cloud that shows no signs of dispersing; its legacy is still under construction, and it is a waste of time to try to frame it in the summative this-is-what-this-artist-released-at-this-point-in-time terms that I am supposed to be coughing up presently. This album is history in motion: where do we start?
Well, let’s work from the outside in. Take a look at that mushroom cloud: how did it get so big? I think the world has been ready and all but waiting for an album like this for a while. Post-Trump, we are (maybe) emerging from a period of hyperentitled male dishonesty unprecedented in visibility with, perhaps, a similarly unprecedented public awareness of the power systems that create these power figures; post-MeToo, we also have a new (or newly public) willingness to scrutinise and reject sexist abuse on both a systemic and individual level. These aren’t just ‘perspectives’ — they are active, intuitive imperatives for anyone experiencing the current date and time from a Western standpoint, and they need strong voices to be conveyed and understood and accepted into our hearts as such. Music has always been a fast track to this end, but how many artists have produced works that aren’t just about this transformation of how female experiences are publicly expressed and male power is critiqued, but thoroughly steeped in the anger and overcome shame-and-self-doubt that are still fueling change, relayed in one collected statement so concrete you can all but touch it? This isn’t a rhetorical question — Fiona Apple is just one part of this movement, and I would be glad to see any further discussion of other related voices — but the depth and conviction with which she gets under the skin of these themes is uncanny. Hers is a voice to express the crux of MeToo with devastating grit and clarity (“For Her”); a voice rich with righteous fury but wise enough to know that anger alone is a sucker’s game (“Relay”); a voice self-assured enough to acquit itself equally well through fiction (“Newspaper”) and its own memory (“Shameika”); a voice of solidarity in the face of petty rivalry and internalised misogyny (“Ladies”); a voice that thoroughly understands its own value and will not under any circumstances stand for being undersold as such (“Under the Table”, “Fetch the Bolt Cutters”, “Rack of His”, etc.).
That explains the size of the dust cloud; it’s very easy to account for the resonance and success this album has had, and will continue to have with swathes of people well beyond the usual indie/art pop/Pitchfork bubble associated with Fiona Apple’s brand of capital-A artiste. However, there’s much more to Fetch the Bolt Cutters than the token zeitgeist firework as which some have misconstrued it. Ultimately, that dimension of the record only packs such a punch because its underlying narrative of finding your own voice rings so true. It’s strange to put Apple, a seasoned writer of uncommon incisiveness, in the situation of voicelessness to begin with, yet a key part of this album, in its reflections of her experiences as a victim of childhood bullying and as a sexual assault survivor, is the way it refashions both her standpoint as a writer and the vocabulary of her band to say things that were previously unsayable for her. As Apple put it in a recent interview in The Guardian, “You cycle through the same things over and over but you’re seeing it a little more clearly every time.” In this case, ‘seeing a little more clearly’ necessitated an extensive process of self-connection; she goes on to remark on how the focal part of the production process was simply constructing an environment in which she and her band were able to express themselves authentically. Trusting herself, her instincts, and — as she stresses — the truth of her own memories was the key struggle, and the endless personability of her lyrics and earthy idiosyncrasies of her musical palette were apparently the natural result of attaining this rather than an end in and of themselves.
This scans. Fetch the Bolt Cutters throws out polish as a virtual anathema to the unfiltered self-assurance that serves as its lifeblood. It’s clamorous and impudent and brash and often outright ugly. It sounds bloody great. It sounds right. It feels this way because the band chemistry and the currents of intention are personable and palpable at every turn; because the bile and banter of Apple’s lyrics finds themselves backed up by the most appropriately corrosive timbres and pounding rhythms; because her vocal harmonies and improvised lyrical twists pack memorable moments for days; because the album’s overcited experimentalism is never an impediment to the clarity of its songwriting (dolphin squeals and dog barking be damned); because it never makes the slightest effort to cater to establishment preconceptions of how pop music should sound; because it tips its hat to some choice alternate realities of how else it might have sounded (I hear you, Bone Machine); because its bravery and self-trust and conviction and resolution to pin down once-ineffable content in the most relatable language all capture the spark of what happens when people express vitally relatable content in a way that no-one else could say. What a force. What a beautiful, brazen force.
So, yes, that mushroom cloud is warranted. Fetch the Bolt Cutters feels like history because it’s exactly that, but it’s first and foremost Fiona Apple’s story told in brash tones so inspirationally her own that those famous no-music-has-sounded-like-this hyperboles can be forgiven to a certain degree. It’s an unmitigated triumph. Everyone should listen to it and sing to it often and loudly, and generally get used to it because this will be the record many of the many artists paying close attention to it right now will wish they had made, and you’ll be hearing its influence for a long time to come.
Disclaimer: This should really have been written from a woman’s perspective. I have done my best to compensate for this with a close reading of Fiona Apple’s commentary, and apologise for any distortion to this that may have resulted from my own writing. The cited Guardian interview above is very good.
I mean, you’re reading about Fetch the Bolt Cutters having a 2020 podium finish on a male-dominated site with a distinctly mixed relationship with abuse allegations and wider misogyny (the irony of this album all but rounding off a list bookended by Marilyn Manson is not lost on me): Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the real fucking deal, and if we at Sputnik can hear that, so can you. –JohnnyoftheWell
2. The Microphones – Microphones in 2020
We only pretend to live on something as ordered as a linear temporal continuum, as orderly as a grid of routine and the everyday punctuated by Big Moments — meeting a significant other, getting a promotion, moving places. It’s a shared misconception, emphasized by how we process time, but entropy increases always: in the recesses of memory, something as trivial as seeing a kung-fu movie can be as important to one’s sense of identity as meeting the ostensible love of one’s life, and time jumbles up and inverts and collapses in on itself into a chaotic mélange and our identities are what we can salvage from the debris. The best attempt at documenting linearity, the photograph, also get lost in drawers, “Did we do this first or rather did we do that?”, iPhones failing in planned obsolescence. Maybe that’s why so many of us are drawn to a forty-minute song consisting of a fragmented, disjointed patchwork of memory, recollection and musings, for the most part anchored only by two guitar chords. Maybe we recognise ourselves. Maybe this is the truth of all things… maybe Taco Bell should continue to release potato-based products. –Winesburgohio
1. Charli XCX – How I’m Feeling Now
“So hard, the things we’ve been through…”
Charli XCX was made for this moment. In a premise so obvious it could be fan fiction, the artist born Charlotte Aitchison announced that she would begin her fourth studio album 21 days into the first lockdown of 2020; exactly 39 days later, she delivered it.
In the years since aligning herself with A.G. Cook and his PC Music cohorts, Charli XCX has finessed a place within the fringes of a pop mainstream that seems unable, or perhaps unwilling, to anoint her with the icon status she deserves. She seizes the thematic richness of her avant-pop with an auteurist attitude, prompting five years of music journalists reframing each successive entry into her catalog as another exemplar of her place in the vanguard; “the future of pop,” as they say. A cursory listen is certainly cause for confusion: the buzzy electro-pop of her early career has given way to exaggerated, is-it-ironic? plasticine experiments that rattled the mainstream for exactly all of 2014 before being subsumed into the cultural lexicon. The maximalist formulas that gifted us 2013’s “Boom Clap” and “I Love It” have been replaced with a deadpan dissonance, eerie exaggerations of the synthetic pop tunes that drove artists like Robyn to international acclaim (and Farrah Abraham to cult status). The idea of computers and algorithms have been so fetishized as the Possibility of a Tomorrow that seven years after her hyper-stylized bubblegum bass could be considered such a thing, we’re still treating Charli’s sensitivities to experimental trends as prescient.
The truth is far more interesting. Charli’s music exists in the liminal spaces afforded by her outré interests and established career, building an inclusive space from the remnants of pop’s queered history that absorbs, refracts and amplifies the marginalized voices therein. Her roster of collaborators suggest an active pursuit of a shared utopia that is constantly warped by societal expectations and self-sabotage, the kind borne of chemical vices and emotional despondency. She delights in the subversion of pleasure triggers, a constant redress of the rigid, insular songwriting that has infiltrated the radio and weaponized poptimism so that we can buy the same old shit in shinier, more cynical packaging. Much like the World Wide Web it projects, Charli’s music becomes escapism into ever expanding spaces, populated by transients and weirdos and the alienated, all glommed together under the glow of her warm embrace.
In this light, is there a more modern pop star, or a more modern pop album? how i’m feeling now was created in 39 days, but it so succinctly packages the thematic and melodic motifs that run through Charli’s career that it feels like the culmination of a lifetime’s preparation. A workaholic who told Pitchfork not eight months prior, “If I go on holiday for three days I have a breakdown,” Charli opened up her Zoom account to thousands of fans and turned lockdown into a fast-tracked reflection of her relationship and career. The ephemeral nature of her music meets its cosmic complement in the neurotic, outsized response to the pandemic, each new track another bewildering deep cut of fleet synth-pop. There are marks of the antagonism in opener “Pink Diamond” that portend post-COVID gluttony, but more often than not the lyrics on how i’m feeling now reveal an artist reckoning with her fortunes in a way paradoxical to her output. The clandestine backrooms and distracting desires of yesterparties are excised in favor of romantic inroads to matrimony and stability. Despite the dearth of guest spots (the first in her career), there always remains the presence of her romantic partner, friends and family.
Of course, an album like how i’m feeling now doesn’t reach a top spot just because of the fortunes of its creation (mis- or otherwise) in a year like 2020, though it will always prove difficult to extricate from the narrative. The key lies in that title, in the DIY spirit that lifts off the weight of headier aspirations that can bog down a whimsical creative on a longer deadline. The album has the explosive spark of lightning in a bottle captured just-so, when everything felt oddly exciting and topsy-turvy; like Charli had to honor the liminal spaces that matured her, made her, left her with the resilience to make good on something like the apocalypse. how i’m feeling now is all hooks and ballads and anthems and visions and friends and families and all of us apart, here, together, forever. We’re Charli, baby. –Lewis
List of participating writers (alphabetical order): Atari, AtomicWaste, BlushfulHippocrene, DrGonzo1937, Frippertronics, granitenotebook, Greg., insomniac15, JohnnyoftheWell, Jom, Jots, klap, manosg, mynameischan, plane, robertsona, Rowan5215, SowingSeason, TalonsOfFire, theacademy, Trebor., Voivod, Willie, Winesburgohio, Xenophanes