Australian Courtney Barnett utilizes familiar materials to wax profound about fear, friendship, and love | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Australian Courtney Barnett utilizes familiar materials to wax profound about fear, friendship, and love


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Australian singer Courtney Barnett crafts a wonderfully lived-in, warm, and hooky melodic world on her second proper album, Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop). Her singing has grown from the half-spoken delivery that marked her first EPs, elevating her conversational drawl into something far more indelible and inviting. With the exception of the biting postpunk snarl of “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” she rarely raises her voice, so most of the time it almost seems as if she’s sitting beside you, nodding along to the scrappy guitar-driven jams that her voice glides into with preternatural ease. As appealing as it is to get lost within her nonchalant performance, it would be a silly to ignore the sharp bite of her words, which subtly indict a range of bad behaviors in lovers, friends, and strangers. “Nameless, Faceless” falls into that last category, depicting a strained empathy for an unknown protagonist harboring potentially violent impulses, which are expressed in a chorus that borrows a withering quote from Margaret Atwood, “Men are scared that women will laugh at them” and “Women are scared that men will kill them.” “Walkin’ on Eggshells” is one of numerous tunes with a title that telegraphs its subject, in this case the unnatural, unsatisfying degree of self-restraint she needs to employ when talking to a lover who won’t match her candor. On “Crippling Self-Doubt and General Lack of Confidence” she summons the inner strength to come clean with an emotionally abusive friend or loved one. When she sings “I never feel as stupid / As when I’m with you,” it’s less an admission than a blow to the head. She closes the album with tender words about acceptance and support on “Sunday Roast.” Barnett provides a powerful reminder of the timeless power of good writing and heartfelt delivery—she might be using the most timeworn tools, but Tell Me How You Really Feel sounds as electric and exciting as nearly anything I’ve heard this year.   v

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