Courtney Barnett is back with Tell Me How You Really Feel, the follow-up to her 2015 debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Since the release of that album, the Australian singer-songwriter released the collaboration album with Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice, and contributed to the Grateful Dead covers project, Day of the Dead. Now, with her latest release, Ms. Barnett delivers some of her best work yet, as Tell Me How You Really Feel is a stellar set of songs from one of rock’s new rising stars.
The album opens up with the moody “Hopefulessness”, a slow creeper of a song that ascends into the chaos of feedback and other sonic mayhem. Next up is “City is Pretty,” which starts off as a cracker — its synthy groove evoking a great pop hook — before breaking down into a slow Pavement-like drive, with psychedelic guitars swirling anthemic riffs into crescendo. Sisters Kim and Kelley Deal of The Breeders make guest appearances on the album, adding guitar and vocal contributions to the tracks “Nameless, Faceless” and “Crippling Self-Doubt And A General Lack Of Confidence” — the latter of which rocks with more swagger than its title would suggest. And speaking of swagger, the Stonsey “Help Your Self” swings just like a witty, modern day “Honky Tonk Women”.
Ms. Barnett also seems to have stepped away a bit from the rough and tumble, ramblish vocal style which was prominent throughout her earlier work. On Tell Me How You Really Feel, the singer trusts her instincts by offering up crisp melodies sung with a lot of power. However, as a lyricist, Ms. Barnett still remains as visceral as ever. “You must be having so much fun/Everything’s amazing/I’m so subservient I make myself sick/Are you listening?” sings Ms. Barnett on “Charity”, one of the many songs on the album that have a conversational feel — leaving room for the listener to reflect upon Ms. Barnett’s explorative poetry.
With Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett has raised her game — avoiding the typical stumbling blocks that bedevil so many follow-up albums, delivering a work worthy of multiple listens. While Ms. Barnett may not be widely-known just yet to American audiences, her rock ‘n’ roll sensibility should appeal greatly to fans of Wilco, Elvis Costello, and Neil Young. Without any doubt in mind, Tell Me How You Really Feel is an easy contender for Album of the Year.
In A Word: Excellent