By S. Sheppard
Mom + Pop/ Marathon Artists/ Milk!
Tell Me How You Really Feel is an open invitation from Courtney Barnett as she gains momentum with her sophomore release. Following her 2015 debut full length, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and fresh off the heels from touring with her musical twin Kurt Vile on the collaboration Lotta Sea Lice in late 2017, Barnett has come up with a refreshing and edited version of herself. This trajectory of maturity rounds out any uneasy feelings one might have about her style of reserved monotone melodies, lyrical ramblings and run-on strumming that made it on her first album.
It seems Barnett may have had similar uneasy feelings while writing this record. The track “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence” is used as a blunt cathartic stamp of words saying just that. In her pursuit of being forthright with these feelings, she has noticeably stirred up some inner anger. In the song “Nameless, Faceless” she uses a loose quote from Margaret Atwood: “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them/women are afraid that men will kill them,” and then goes on to say “I walk with my keys between my fingers,” woven into an otherwise pop-centric grunge tune. It’s unclear if she’s directly speaking to the present feminist climate or possibly just haters online, but the sharper edge suits the already cheeky attitude in her lyrics. Again, in the track “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” she releases a pointed tone to whatever she perceives to be that opposition with the snarky “I hear you mutter under your breath/put up or shut up it’s all the same/ never change never change.” Whether Barnett is letting off steam or not, she’s a benevolent artist and the catharsis is personal yet easily relatable. Better out than in.
In spite of her crippling doubt, Barnett’s vocal range on this record has progressed into sounding more seasoned, both sweet and savoury. Her time writing and touring the album with Kurt Vile seems to have refined her melodies and guitar fills relieving some pressure from putting out a substantial second release after the fast success of the first. In “Need a Little Time” she presents her quiet pretty singing voice with catchy ‘eeeeee’s and ‘ooooo’s that really lift her listenability in contrast to the steady rap like talking from the 2015 release. It is a standout single and a self-care anthem perfect for the shower or car sing-alongs.
There are guitar sounds on this record that also brings out the feels. She is known to play guitars like a Harmony or a Telecaster, which lends her a basic, yet rootsy-grungy sound that she manages to spread evenly over the ten songs. There is a tempo breakdown in a jangly Velvet Underground inspired “City Looks Pretty” that showcases what a soulful rock guitarist with deep pop sensibilities she is, and only getting better. Then, going back to “I’m Not Your Mother…” Barnett rides the line between grunge rock and punk riffs. Knowing she executes this simple but perfectly rhythmic guitar hammering all the while playing lefty, with no pick, gives off the feelings of authenticity and solid musicianship. Hearing more of that guitar flare filling space in the songs and less words, proves she is showcasing her natural talent more confidently and it also makes for a more light-hearted listen.
When you have as many feelings as Courtney Barnett, it’s hard to sum it all up without some redundancies and repeats, but for now her modesty and self-awareness has been keeping her relevant and a trusted Melbourne musical export.Courtney Barnett, Mom + Pop/ Marathon Artists/ Milk!, Record Review, Tell Me How You Really Feel