The celebration of slackerdom that often characterised Courtney Barnett’s first album was handily epitomised in its title, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Funnily enough, its follow-up is contrastingly titled Tell Me How You Really Feel and in many ways is a real break from the tone of her first record.
Such a shift is reflected in the two albums’ very different opening tracks, “Elevator Operator” being a breezy tale of a character named Oliver Paul that escapes boredom with work on the roof of a tall building, before comforting the listener that he’s “not suicidal, just idling insignificantly”. The markedly slower and ominous sound of “Hopefulessness” immediately informs the listener that this album will not be a staid recreation of the first one. The linguistic amalgamation of the opening track’s title suggests a restless mood and it eventually gives way to something of the thrashing guitar sound that often characterized Barnett’s first album.
This album will not be a staid recreation of the first one
Barnett often appears self-aware in her use of the quiet-loud dynamics of earlier inspirations such as the Pixies, as in the lyric, “I’m getting louder now, getting louder now”, that prefaces the guitar breakdown of the opener. Such an acknowledgement can be further seen via the vocal contributions from Kim Deal of the Pixies on a highlight of the record, “Nameless, Faceless”. This track targets the “pent-up rage” of internet trolls and integrates an aphorism from Margaret Atwood in its chorus, in which Barnett expresses her desire to “walk through the park in the dark” without fear. In this instance, Barnett displays her tendency to often position small moments in her songs as those which carry the greatest amount of personal significance, as in the depressed metal ceilings of “Depreston” which serve as a symbol for the uninspiring nature of a town the song’s narrator considers living in.
A number of tracks such as single, “City Looks Pretty”, have a languid sound that is in many ways engaging, though the lyricism at times appears to lack the frequency of throwaway with Barnett’s first album often featured, reflecting this album’s more introspective approach to songwriting. This can make tracks appear somewhat lacking in the memorably distinctive nature of singles from the first album such as “Pedestrian At Best”. The slight changes in Barnett’s approach may be seen as the result of influences from the collaborative album she recorded with Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice. The slower pace and guitar sounds of “Walkin’ on Eggshells” have a particular sonic resemblance to Kurt Vile, though this track manages to avoid feeling derivative in its mixture of influences. The bittersweet closing track, “Sunday Roast”, is the most memorable on a first listen. Though Barnett sings of taking a “broken heart and turn it into art” on the opening track, she does so with a light touch and humour, summed up in the apparent mundane refrain on of “And if you move away y’know I’ll miss your face” that closes the album.