Tell Me How You Really Feel - Courtney Barnett
Updated: Jan 2, 2019
Written by Ida V. Eskamani
Courtney Barnett is the kind of artist you would, without hesitation, endure sixteen dreadful hours on a bus to see live. I know this from firsthand experience.
The year was 2015 and Barnett, an unapologetically queer indie rocker from Australia, had just released her debut record, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.” As soon as the opening track met my eardrums, I knew I was partaking in a moment of unmistakable music history.
From the most mundane neuroses to the most profound existential crisis, Barnett’s wit and forensically detailed songwriting leaves you dazzled. “Elevator Operator” hooks you with spiraling riffs backdropping the tale of Oliver Paul, a disenchanted twenty year-old with an unconventional dream “All I ever wanted to be / Was an elevator operator, can you help me please?” Eccentric lyrics with deadpan delivery; Barnett carries a nonchalant attitude paired with a captivating confidence, "Elevator Operator" opened an album that cannot be defined. Exhilarating, hilarious, and irresistible, “Sometimes I Just Sit…” was an anomaly everyone was talking about. I knew, without a doubt, that Barnett was about to take over the world. I had to participate. Sometimes, you gotta meet history at a mosh pit in Atlanta, Georgia.
Three years later, Barnett is back, and goddamn are we pleased. The Australian singer-songwriter never actually left; following the release of Sometimes I Sit.., she joined forces with Kurt Vile to release side project Lotta Sea Lice. Unfailingly humble, Barnett is a trailblazer who consistently raises the bar; increasing anticipation for her 2018 release Tell Me How You Really Feel. In classic Barnett fashion, she easily exceeds all expectations.
Whereas Sometimes I Sit… was a brilliant ruckus of characters and exploits, Tell Me How You Really Feel is relatively subdued and introspective. The difference in tone reflects the subject matter, yet still, with ten tracks totaling under forty-minutes, this record is undeniably Barnett. Barnett address a long list of topics on her mind with lyrics that are witty as they are revealing. The singer-songwriter’s guitar solos continue to defy the laws of physics while Bones Sloane is unmistakable on the bass, cultivating a familiar backbone throughout and David Mudie is relentless on the drums. The band continues to successfully incorporate retro stylings while cultivating a modern, experimental sound that mesmerizes. The album borrows influence from countless genres, including grunge, psych, surf, and folk, all masterfully combined.
Barnett takes the name of this album to heart. She’s not walking on eggshells or holding her tongue; she is speaking her mind and demanding to be heard. Tell Me How You Really Feel inspires authenticity, vulnerability and compassion towards others as well as ourselves.
“Hopefulessness” opens the record with a cautious riff. As the lyrics become increasingly confident, so too does the instrumentation. Barnett gingerly sings “Y’know what they say / No one’s born to hate / We learn it somewhere along the way.” Her voice increasingly grows in assurance as the song continues “Your vulnerability / Is stronger than it seems.” The intentional manner in which this track simultaneously ascends in both volume and optimism is brilliantly moving. The track closes with a resounding guitar solo, one of many featured on the record of which we crave from Barnett. By embracing vulnerability, Barnett sets the tone for an authentic record.
“City Looks Pretty” follows, employing wicked psych-inspired riffs. A commentary on the isolating juxtapositions of fame, Barnett attests “Friends treat you like a stranger and / Strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well.” Following the theme, “Need a Little Time” speaks to the pressures and perceptions of success, “Everybody wants to have their say / Forever waiting for some car crash.” All eyes are on you, in anticipation of our impending failure. In response, Barnett is blunt, “You need a little time out / From you / And me.”
The record's namesake makes its debut on “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence." First of all, Barnett is really good at naming things, as this track name, and so any others, are fantastic. Though uplifting rhythms, as you may assume this song paints a dire picture where depression, self-loathing, and indecision prevails. Kim and Kelley Deal add their girl-gang vocals to the album proposing the prompt: “Tell me how you really feel!” The chorus declares: “I don’t know, I don’t know anything / I don’t owe, I don’t owe anything.” The harmonies sound celebratory; sometimes surrendering to struggle is the most liberating thing we can do.
In addition to telling us all how she really feels, Barnett takes down trolls, bullies, and misogynists throughout the album. “I’m Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch” stands out along the rest. It’s aggressive, with thrashing guitars and ferocious percussion alongside Barnett’s defiant growl. This track is tough as nails, and an anthem for those victim to exploitative relationships. On “Nameless, Faceless” Barnett claps back at a twitter troll, “He said ‘I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / And spit out better words than you." Barnett's response: “But you didn’t.” Rooted in a quote by Canadian poet and activist Margaret Atwood, the chorus unpacks toxic masculinity and the fear it instills within us, “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them / I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Women are scared that men will kill them.” The contrast is chilling, accurate, and necessary.
In embracing authenticity and vulnerability, Barnett demonstrates extraordinary compassion on this record. “Charity” lovingly affirms the internal screaming we all hear in our heads, contending “You don’t have to pretend you’re not scared / Everyone else is just as terrified as you,” while “Help Your Self” throws self-doubt aside. With a gentle twang, “Sunday Roast” closes the record with infinite kindness: “Keep on keepin’ on / Y’know you’re not alone / And I know all your stories / But I’ll listen to them again.”
Barnett takes the name of this album to heart. She’s not walking on eggshells or holding her tongue; she is speaking her mind and demanding to be heard. Tell Me How You Really Feel inspires authenticity, vulnerability and compassion towards others as well as ourselves. Now go tell everyone how you really feel.
Ida is an Iranian-American from Florida who grew up with the Beatles, and came of age in the pit. She will talk to you about music for as long as you will pretend to listen. She is founder of Bandifesto, a little blog with a big heart.