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Courtney Barnett “Tell Me How You Really Feel”

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Courtney Barnett specializes in miniatures, which is why her 2015 debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, was such a wonder: with barbed words and gnarled guitars, she made everyday minutiae seem compelling. Three years in the making — it was delayed in part due to a 2017 collaboration with Kurt Vile — the 2018 sequel, Tell Me How You Really Feel, plays like the flip image of its predecessor. What once was captivating now feels indifferent, delivered with a shrug instead of a snarl. Everything about Tell Me How You Really Feel seems muted, whether it’s the grungy stomp of Barnett and her band — a group that remains steadfastly and proudly stuck in the glory days of ’90s alt-rock — or her words, which now seem to meander to a point instead of cutting to the quick. As she’s a good craftswoman, the songs are by and large sturdy, but that talent also cuts against the success of Tell Me How You Really Feel: when they’re matched with the appealing yet incurious performances, everything feels a bit too cozy. Sometimes, a hook or a clever line cuts through the amiable haze — and “Charity,” with its chorus of “so subservient I make myself sick,” manages to blend both — but Tell Me How You Really Feel isn’t an album of moments, it’s a collection that sustains a mood: a mood that’s ragged and slack, but too dulled to charm.


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