tue 26/03/2019

Albums of the Year 2018: Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2018: Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Albums of the Year 2018: Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Cynicism and crippling self-doubt on relevant, relatable record

Courtney Barnett: All the feels

It’s been a great year for music: trailblazing and unforgettable EPs from Stella Donnelly and boygenius; the triumphant returns of Robyn, and Janelle Monáe; flawless albums from Kurt Vile and Tunng; stunning re-imaginings from St Vincent and Waxahatchee; and confident debuts from Snail Mail and The Orielles.

My home Welsh scene continues to bubble, with much-loved new works from heroes Gruff Rhys and the Manics; national praise for Gwenno’s iconic Le Kov; and sparkling, significant debuts from fresher faces Estrons, Adwaith and Accü. Meanwhile, the stratospheric success of Boy Azooga’s 1,2, Kung Fu put Cardiff firmly back on the map.

My album of the year, though, is one that’s so firmly-rooted in 2018 it could almost serve as a time-capsule. When Courtney Barnett dropped “Nameless, Faceless” in February, she’d never sounded more relevant. The single saw her calling out her trolls with a level-headed, even empathic approach (“I wish that someone could hug you / must be lonely, being angry”), before powerfully respinning a Margaret Atwood line (“Women are scared that men will kill them / I hold my keys between my fingers”) to present anonymous, keyboard-warrior hate-speech alongside the very real threat of physical violence.

On the record that followed, Tell Me How You Really Feel, it was clear Barnett had honed her ability to articulate complex human intricacies and modern insecurities and turn them into poetry. One of my favourite lyrics of 2018 comes from “City Looks Pretty”, in her signature plain-speaking style: “Your friends treat you like a stranger and / strangers treat you like their best friend, oh well”. “Charity” reads like an eyeroll at social media culture, that chorus dripping with sarcasm: “You must be having so much fun / everything’s amazing”. How many people do you know entering the new year logging off certain apps for an emotional rest? It seems the exhaustive comparison of carefully curated highlight reels is wearing thin, as platforms designed to connect us instead begin to feel dissociative and isolating.

In 2018, we need artists like Courtney Barnett: the ones who can wrap up bleak, existential subject matter in tunes that are so immediate, so listenable, and yet never feel sugar-coated. Tell Me How You Really Feel is both introspective and escapist, personal and universal; a black comedy of anxious anthems. When a downward spiral is only ever a news headline away, a new Courtney Barnett song, dripping with cynicism, is a breath of fresh air; and this year, we got 10 of them.

Two more essential albums for 2018

Boy Azooga - 1, 2, Kung Fu

Janelle Monáe - Dirty Computer

Gig of the year

Stella Donnelly, Green Man Festival

Track of the year

Robyn - "Missing U"

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