“Tell Me How You Really Feel”
BOTTOM LINE Mastering melancholy moderation and wielding it well.
Only Courtney Barnett could manage to make a song called “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence” sound upbeat and still genuine.
It’s a trick that the Aussie singer-songwriter goes to again and again on her potent sophomore album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel” (Milk!/Marathon Artists/Mom + Pop), turning her melancholy into well-crafted indie-rock anthems.
The chorus of “Crippling Self-Doubt” is a chant of “I don’t know, I don’t know anything,” where Barnett is joined by The Breeders’ Kim Deal and together they twist the uncertainty into a Pavement-like triumph.
Throughout “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” Barnett points out the difficulties of really expressing yourself and she seemingly revels in the complexities. She mints new words to convey her emotions, like the opener “Hopefulessness,” with its Nirvana-like riffs that both offer inspiration and channel sadness. “We learn it somewhere along the way,” she sings. “Take your broken heart, turn it into art.”
And she is clever enough to use a huge sonic palette to set her various moods. “Help Your Self” struts like a ’70s rocker, while “Walkin’ on Eggshells” is a sunny, folk-leaning number that calls to mind The Band, and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” is a stomping glam rocker that features some great fuzzed-out guitar solos.
Barnett is at her best, though, on the early song-of-the-year candidate “Nameless, Faceless,” where she rails against violence against women and social media trolls while maintaining a positive, empathetic outlook.
“You sit alone at home in the darkness with all the pent-up rage that you harness,” she declares early on, while still raising the question of the danger women feel. “I’m real sorry bout whatever happened to you.”
With “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” Barnett solidifies her status as indie rock’s brightest, must-see new star.