“I Don’t Feel Alive” is the newest single by Chelsea Cutler, one of the heavyweights of the indie/alt-pop scene. From just a short teaser posted to IG with the caption “let’s go somewhere” on June 29th, fans and fellow artists went feral. “f yeah chels,” said popular electronic artist ayokay. “CHELSEA WHAT IS HAPPENING,” wrote a fan. “Off we go,” wrote another, assuming this new tune was, potentially, the first dose of a new album from Cutler.
Cutler would confirm that theory in another post on release day, July 14th, saying, “the album is finished and this is the start of it all.”
The qualities of this NJ-born singer/songwriter, who has sold out Radio City and other major venues with Quinn XCII and has racked up songs with more than half a billion streams on her own and with frequent collaborator Jeremy Zucker, are undeniable. Her songwriting is honest, vulnerable, and straight to the point. Her voice, tender and sweet with a slight affectation, cuts through like a knife on both ballads, like “You Are Losing Me,” and uptempo tracks, like “Let Me Down” with Quinn XCII.
After a social media hiatus following an exhausting work year uninterrupted by COVID, Cutler was ready to release one of her most prolific songs to date.
Lyrically, “I Don’t Feel Alive” is unflinching: “If I could, I’d wake myself up when I am somebody that I’m proud of.” She repeats that later in the song. It’s also, at times, uncomfortably funny: “I’m paying three different psychologists / Trying to remember who I told what story to / I’m writing feelings in a journal / Cause that’s what people who have their shit together seem to do.” And a wake-up call: “I’m turning off my fucking cell phone and trying to have honest conversations in real life.”
Musically, it’s Noah Kahan. It’s Phillip Phillips. It’s Mumford & Sons. It is that rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing, and anthemic Americana music that brings people to their feet and tears to their eyes. Cutler, not always the strongest singer, digs deeper here, maintaining command of the operation. Never allowing the music, which is quite static and dense throughout, to overpower her. Her sense of melody and timing on, “The water goes downhill / And still / I swim against the current with two-arms-that-can-not-fly,” as well as the additional reverb on every repeat of “I don’t feel alive,” are also understated yet appreciated choices.
“’IDFA’ feels kinda like a white flag,” said Cutler in another post two days prior to release. “Not in a bad way. Not surrendering, just taking my hands off the wheel a bit and trying to let go of controlling the narrative.” If opening up and letting go allows Cutler the chance to start to heal, and that process is documented in this new record, it will be her most definitive project yet.