Courtney Barnett (photo by Poona Ghana, PR)
Tell Me How You Really Feel
Mom + Pop/Milk! Records
Five years ago, Courtney Barnett erupted onto the landscape, brandishing acerbic wit, an in-your-face immediacy, deadpan delivery and a punk-pop aesthetic. Every move this Australian singer, songwriter, and guitarist has made since her arrival has only reinforced her status as one of indie rock's most unique musicians. It's been three years since Barnett's debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Last year, she collaborated with Kurt Vile on Lotta Sea Lice, a warm mix of covers, originals, and mutual admiration.
Barnett’s latest salvo is her second solo album, Tell Me How You Really Feel. This time, Barnett takes a different approach, looking at the bigger picture as a songwriter and doing so in a more refined way; she's gently taken her foot off the gas. The uncompromising energy present in many of her earlier songs, like those found on her first album or even 2013's The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, is tempered somewhat on these new tunes. It’s as if she made a conscious attempt to focus even more on the power of her words. While her buzzsaw-punk energy might be reined in a touch, this doesn’t mean that Barnett has lost any of her bite — it's a subtle way to get her message heard with minimal interference.
Tell Me How You Really Feel consists of observations on everyday life, her own and others. And Barnett's powerful writing makes it crystal clear how she's really feeling.
“Nameless, Faceless,” which features the Breeders' Kim Deal on backing vocals, explores violence against women and the mindset of men who commit such acts. Deal, and her Breeders bandmate and twin sister Kelley Deal, pitch in on “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack Of Self Confidence." It doesn’t warrant a translator to decipher the song — Barnett expresses exactly what the title suggests. The Deals add to a chanted chorus goading Barnett, who responds with the much-repeated line, “I don’t know, I don’t know anything.”
On “Hopefulessness," which starts the album, Barnett takes her time, simmering unhurriedly. Slowly and ominously, she sings just a bit above a whisper. As the song progresses, the tension slowly builds into a cacophony of squealing feedback which is eventually reduced to the sound of a whistling teapot on the boil. She also punkishly rips on “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” another example of her straightforward honesty.
As a songwriter, Barnett knows when to step on the accelerator and when to pull back. She can dance around a subject, and then go straight to the heart. On Tell Me How You Really Feel, she finds that being succinct is as important as being elusive. Best of all, this new album is another great example of Barnett’s ability to kick ass; she's one of the toughest rockers of the past fifty years.