Courtney Barnett has been busy. After releasing her first album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and subsequent touring, she collaborated with Kurt Vile to produce an album with both artists playing off each other’s incredible songwriting prowess. The album (Lotta Sea Lice) showed a conversational type of lyricism with a unique style of singing. For the most part, Lotta Sea Lice was a more cheerful and upbeat project. Barnett’s second solo album, Tell Me How You Really Feel is not so; TMHYRF is a somber, yet strong representation of an artist proving their mettle and then some.
Courtney Barnett is not the typical singer-songwriter; she has a soothing, unconventional voice that flows with her melody instead of fighting to stand out. TMHYRF doesn’t showcase many moments of vocal brilliance, rather her voice strays slightly alongside the musical palate. Irrespective of the vocals, TMHYRF’s guitar prowess is well-founded; Barnett consistently produces beautiful melodies even when switching between soft, delicate progressions (“Sunday Roast,” “Need A Little Time”) and more powerful progressions (“Nameless, Faceless,” “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”).
Unlike her first album, TMHYRF jumps from mood to mood instead of from thought to thought. TMHYRF is a refined and concise version of her sound. The strong, recognizable theme of mental health is tackled in Barnett’s own wonderful style. Barnett effortlessly moves from sadness to anger, from reassurance to confusion, all while displaying her immense songwriting talent. On opener “Hopefulness” Barnett sings, “You know its okay to have a bad day.”
Her lyricism is fantastic; Barnett has the amazing ability to convey a strong message with seemingly simple lyrics. While she is not the first artist to address mental health, she does approach it with simplicity that is neither too plain nor too convoluted. In “Hopefulness,” Barnett encourages a struggling person to “take your broken heart and turn it into art” and tells them “your vulnerability is stronger than it seems” giving the listener comfort. In “Help Yourself,” Barnett sings, “the tiger claw gets patient/ pull back and release/ the sign on the shelf says: Please Help Yourself.” Her message of reassurance continues through the last song, “Sunday Roast.” Barnett says, “I know you’re doing your best/ I know you’re doing just fine.” The message is encouraging, prodding listeners to be better and easier on themselves.
“Tell Me How You Really Feel” is a great album that deserves instant recognition. Courtney Barnett is producing music that sounds amazing but, like most great albums, also has a terrific message that ties all the songs together.