Charli XCX - “how i’m feeling now” (Atlantic ***)
The title of Charli XCX’s fourth album is lowercase, e.e. cummings-style, to express the disconnection and dissatisfaction of leading a life in limbo during lockdown.
The British electro pop star and songwriter — who has penned hits for Icona Pop, Iggy Azalea, and Camila Cabello — conceived, wrote, and recorded the entirety of the glitchy, uneasy “how i’m feeling now” during the coronavirus pandemic.
Quarantining in Los Angeles with boyfriend Huck Kwong, she announced the project in early April and give herself a May 15 deadline, keeping fans up to speed on her progress on Instagram Live.
The resulting music, made in collaboration with producers like A.G. Cook and Dylan Brady of 100 gecs, is restless — itching to start a party at a time that it wouldn’t be prudent to do so.
“Lip gloss on, and I’m looking like a star,” she sings on the hard-edged “Pink Diamond.” “Gonna give you good views.” But those views will be virtual only: She’s turning herself out in anticipation of going “on a video chat.”
“How i’m feelin” explores the impact of living in isolation with one you love: “Building walls,” Charli sings in the combustible “Detonate.” “Close myself off in new ways.”
But in the end, the strange new world breeds optimism. “Anthems” longs for an epic night out on the town but hopes that the forced intimacy of lockdown might lead to a connection that lasts: “Finally, when it’s over,” she sings, “we might even be closer.” — Dan DeLuca
Perfume Genius - “Set My Heart on Fire Immediately” (Matador *** 1/2)
It isn’t easy to strike a new chord as a soft-spoken, earnest singer-songwriter. But Mike Hadreas has incrementally shown what sets him apart, as in 2014’s gay-panic response “Queen” (“No family is safe when I sashay”) and 2012’s “Hood” video humanizing a porn star.
As someone living with Crohn’s disease, he makes body music about rumbling stomachs, promising eyes, and the desire to be free of corporeal form.
On his fifth and best album, Perfume Genius debuts his first notable rhythms: “Describe,” with its steam-powered twang and fuzz-guitar thud, and “On the Floor,” a sexy shuffle with pump organ straight out of the Wailers.
While his lightly orchestrated tunes have been gathering definition since 2017’s “No Shape,” Hadreas has never sounded so concrete before, and he’s never sounded better.
Standouts include “Nothing at All,” with its heartbeat pulse, and “Without You,” with a girl-group bass line and “Kodachrome”-style percussion. It almost sounds like he’s enjoying his body. — Dan Weiss
Gina Sicilia - “Love Me Madly” (Blue Elan *** 1/2)
Nashville, Tenn.-based Gina Sicilia has teamed up for her ninth album with Cody Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, who produced the set, co-wrote all the songs, and plays many of the instruments. (His brother and bandmate, Luther, contributes guitar on three tracks.)
The collaboration adds some extra potency to the work of Sicilia, who had already established herself as a blues-soul force, both as a singer and as a writer.
The album title gets to the basic theme here: The songs express sometimes obsessive levels of need and desire.
After beginning with the incantatory percussion and vocals of “Like the World Has Never Seen,” Sicilia and Dickinson turn to suggestive sweet soul with the horn-accented “Hey Love” (“Pour a little honey in my jar.”). They add strings and a country-soul vibe on “For a Little While” and “Fall in Love.” Then they lighten up for the shimmying “How My Dreams They Go.”
“Gotta Be a Way” allows Sicilia to cut loose for some bluesy belting. On the title song and on “Misery With You,” her robust, smoky alto drifts up into a delicate falsetto.
These are songs that could have easily lent themselves to histrionics and melodrama. But Sicilia, reflecting the taste and expressiveness of the music, manages to convey deep emotion without ever sounding overwrought. — Nick Cristiano
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