Charli XCX, "how i'm feeling now" (Atlantic)
The title of Charli's fourth album is lowercase, e.e. cummings-style, to express the disconnection and dissatisfaction of a life in lockdown.
The British electropop star — who has penned hits for Icona Pop, Iggy Azalea, and Camila Cabello — conceived, wrote and recorded this glitchy, uneasy album during the pandemic, quarantining in Los Angeles with boyfriend Huck Kwong and keeping fans up to speed 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. Gonna give you good views," she sings on the hard-edged "Pink Diamond," in anticipation of a video chat.
"How i'm feelin" explores the impact of living in isolation with the one you love. "Building walls, close myself off in new ways," she sings in the combustible "Detonate."
But in the end, the strange new world breeds optimism. "Anthems" longs for an epic night out 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, Philadelphia Inquirer
Perfume Genius, "Set My Heart on Fire Immediately" (Matador)
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.
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.
Dan Weiss, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Lady Gaga, "Chromatica"
• Flying Lotus, "Flamagra"
• Kip Moore, "Wild World"
• Nicole Atkins, "Italian Ice"
• Static-X, "Project Regeneration"