National Music Reviews May 2018

Review: Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

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Courtney Barnett
Tell Me How You Really Feel

Milk! Records
Street: 05.18
Courtney Barnett: = Waxahatchee + Lucinda Williams

Australian-based singer songwriter Courtney Barnett delivers yet again with her newest album. This 10-track release is an emotionally and electrically charged album, well-crafted to iterate Barnett’s deadpan style and undeniable appeal.

Barnett fuses her instrumental vigor with powerful yet poetic lyrics. The album lives up to its name. Navigating the complexity of feeling and emotional expression. Sometimes the theme reveals itself in subtle nods and lines, while other times it’s obvious, like in “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence.”

The album opens with “Hopefulessness,” which begins with a low-note reverb and a slow-paced riff and grows and develops as the song progresses. Shortly after the start, accompanied by a synthesized buzz, Barnett croons, “You know what they say / No one is born to hate / We learn it somewhere / Along the way / Take your broken heart / Turn it into art.” The eventual and subtle drumming and percussion amid the continued mesmerizing drab of the electric guitar echoes the title of the song: a bit hopeful and a bit hopeless. Barnett effortlessly draws out the words, “It’s OK / It’s OK / It’s OK to have a bad day.” What started as a slow and simple track expands into a blended electric whirl, capping out at nearly five minutes, all instrumental, with the sound a seeming steaming, whistling teapot.

Some tracks are more than four minutes, like “City Looks Pretty” and “Charity.” They are instrumentally cheerful, with a vocal range as diverse as it gets for Barnett. Meanwhile, some are characteristically deadpan and to the point, like the laconic track, “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” This less-than-two-minute-song is grunge-packed with some edge, some yelling, and generously heavy on the drums and dramatic strums. It’s mostly instrumental and dives into sporadic quick shifts on the guitar. It is over as quickly as it began.

Barnett softens her edge with “Walkin’ on Eggshells,” a folk-rock song, dipping her toes in pop elements. The electric guitar and drums remain gently at the forefront while subtle keyboarding becomes intermittently apparent. “Help Your Self” is temperate, too, yet a little fun and funky. It starts first with the drums, which remain and never cease, and then brings in a simultaneous and toe-tapping riff on the bass and electric guitar. Between dramatic starts and stops, Barnett integrates poetic introspection and perspective, from “Darkness depends on where you’re standin’” to “The sun on the shelf / Says please help yourself” and “Humble but hungry / Need validation,” in the chorus.

Tell Me How You Really Feel is ardently raw and toggles between classic-style Barnett, nuances and novel endeavors. Whatever she does, Barnett seems to do it well, guided simply by instrumental exploration and musical soul-searching. Since her first full-length release in 2015, Barnett has proven she’s a musical standout: Tell Me How You Really Feel not only hits the nail on the head—it raises the bar for what’s to come. –Lizz Corrigan