The image of “the tortured artist”, of someone taking their pain and using it to fuel creativity, is one that’s all too often romanticised. The pain of heartache, anxiety, confusion, and turmoil presented as poetry can act as something of a comfort zone, a space to experience these emotions, contained in 2-5 minute bursts. On Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett offers just that: a space in which to breathe deep, and to feel however the hell it is you really feel, all the while searching for a sense of beauty in whatever and wherever that is.
"Take your broken heart, turn it into art," Barnett introduces on "Hopefulessness". Over the course of her second album's ten tracks, that's exactly what she has done. Disregarding the romantic notions of pain and creativity, Tell Me How You Really Feel reflects on the mundanity and the everyday realisms of these emotions, lyrical witticisms taking form as words of self-comfort. It's a collection of songs that resound with the emotion of being (in the immortal words of F. Scott Fitzgerald) "within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life." Riffing through mood swings on "Charity", raging against patriarchal violence on "Nameless, Faceless", and finding freedom in cluelessness on "Help Your Self", the entire record echoes with the desire to feel okay where you are, the good and the bad included. As Barnett sings on the album's opening track, "sometimes I get sad, it's not all that bad."
There are no easy answers, not for the listener to unwrap, and not even for Barnett herself - but that's never what was on offer. What Barnett does offer with her second record is a deep breath of fresh air, a pause for thought wrapped up in distortion and fuzzed up refrains. At its heart, Tell Me How You Really Feel offers a sense of encouragement, finding reassurance in transience and seeking out a little beauty amidst chaos and turmoil. After all, isn't that really all any of us want to do?