Australian indie rock star Courtney Barnett released her debut record Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit in 2015, propelling songs such as “Pedestrian at Best” and “Dead Fox” to the top of the charts. On the heels of the success of the duet album Lotta Sea Lice with Kurt Vile, Barnett released her sophomore solo album Tell Me How You Really Feel on May 18, 2018. On her second album, Barnett explores the realm of the indie genre by extending herself beyond the boundaries she previously held herself to on her freshmen debut. Here’s a breakdown of all 10 tracks:
The album opens with a dark and initially confused guitar pattern that settles with time, almost giving the listener the sense that Barnett is confused, almost groping in the dark to find the place that suits her. The tone that Barnett uses in her vocals tint the rough edges of the guitar, making the song more approachable. As the song itself progresses, the melody and the vocals seem to wake up and gain more of an animated attitude. The message highlights the struggle of dealing with a confused and somewhat broken heart, Barnett stating “Take your broken heart/Turn it into art/Can’t take it with you, can’t take it with you.” Without starting with an upbeat tune, Barnett is able to have the same mesmerizing effect on the listener by gently drawing them into her story and her music with a welcoming vibe.
“City Looks Pretty”
Barnett confirms that she is most definitely awake with her second track, which begins with a vibrant, upbeat, and catchy melody with her sweet vocals overlaying the railroad track laid down by the guitar. Courtney ignores the conventional song structure (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, etc.) and tells her story through a freeform style instead, singing “I’ll be what you want when you want it but I’ll never be what you need.” The entire song itself emulates a train in the city, or a car driving through city traffic, giving the listener a unique listening experience. Ethereal strings add some elegance to the crowded atmosphere, further emulating the vibe of a city. The song is somewhat lengthy without much dynamic contrast, but the tune itself is trademark Barnett: unique, risky, and catchy.
The melody that opens this track is immediately brighter, discussing what it’s like to talk to someone who won’t listen. I personally love the guitar chord structure–Barnett departs from a conventional form and puts different chords together in different places. The message of the song is desperate, yet upbeat. Overall, Barnett is able to display her conflicted frustration through a peppy melody and driving beats; it’s different from “City Looks Pretty,” yet it still paints just as vivid of a picture for the listener.
“Need A Little Time”
Opening with stripped back electric guitar, “Need A Little Time” is just what it sounds like: a break in the excitement. The message of the song is relatable; everyone at some point needs a break from the world to see people for who they are. It also talks about how hard it is to open up to someone, stating “Shave your head to see how it feels emotionally/It’s not that different, but to the hand it’s beautiful.” Barnett highlights the difference between physical and emotional feeling, really drawing the listener closer in to see the importance of both. In terms of song structure, the organ keeps things interesting behind the climbing guitar that drives the melody and the song itself.
After a descending guitar line, the tune breaks into a beach rock vibe that settles into a comfortable groove with Halloweenish influences around the edges. The song trades between a beach vibe and the Halloween march, contributing to an overall catchy tune with muted vocals. The muted vocals catch the listener’s attention, almost putting them in a different state of mind when listening to the song as a whole. The song ends abruptly, however appropriately, conveying confusion that fits the message of the song.
“I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bi*ch”
With the classic “Pedestrian at Best” style, Barnett converys broken melodies that are unpleasant, but appropriate for the message she is trying to convey. This tune represents the climax of the album; a brief spout of anger in daily life. Once again, Barnett is able to paint a story with sounds as the medium. The length of the song is metaphorical as to how long anger streaks last, and the steady progression of the melody represents the growth of anger itself. Only the best artists can transcend a single art form to address an issue in a universal way, and Barnett achieves just that.
“Crippling Self Doubt and A General Lack of Confidence”
This tune is catchy and upbeat from the get go. Centering around the similar theme of trying to see beyond the surface of a person, Barnett begs the person to “tell me how you really feel,” giving the listener even more context behind the album’s title. Barnett is almost like a therapist, being overly open and honest through the lyrics and carefree melody. Simple yet satisfying, the lyrics of the song ramble on with some structure. The lyrics even cleverly rhyme; “know” and “owe” blend seamlessly together, encouraging the listener to sing along.
“Help Your Self”
Barnett returns to her deadpan style set to the backdrop of slow rock. The stream of consciousness style of her lyrics make a welcome appearance, switching from metaphors of the moon to a tiger’s claw. She references the devil with “Lower Dantian screaming,” and includes a ragged guitar solo that takes no prisoners. While the song is a contrast to Barnett’s other peppy tunes, it is disappointing that it doesn’t feature a varied rhythmic style.
“Walkin’ On Eggshells”
Retro stylings on the guitar open this number, which features calm, almost “Depreston”-like vocal sweetness. The lyrics themselves depict Barnett’s attempts to be honest, but trying to avoid conflict at the same time. This song confirms that the entire album centers around difficulties in relationships, hitting on the issue in a number of ways.
By introducing a different vibe, almost like that of light pop, Barnett infuses her style into an overdone genre. She also introduces the calm after the storm, including hints of Daughter’s dreamy guitar and fun.’s percussion style. The lyrics are positive for the most part, a contrast to the frustration and anger portrayed in most of other songs. By talking about “keep on keeping on,” Barnett definitely has found the sweet spot, and she’s not backing down anytime soon.
Tracks Not To Be Missed:
“City Looks Pretty,” “Charity,” “Nameless, Faceless,” “Crippling Self Doubt and A General Lack of Confidence,” “Walkin’ On Eggshells,” and “Sunday Roast.”