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CD of The Week

Week of 5/21/18

    Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel (Mom + Pop)

    Almost five years out from the release of her double EP, Courtney Barnett has truly made a name for herself. As a solo artist, and as a duo with equally impressive Kurt Vile, Barnett's steadfast presence as a purveyor of contemplative indie rock has greatly increased her fan base. That audience is sure to find more to love on her latest album Tell Me How You Really Feel. Stretching her lyrical prowess and catchy melodies across a new analytical depth in her songwriting, Barnett shines on this collection as she delivers these heartfelt songs with more brutal honesty than ever before.

    As an album, Tell Me How You Really Feel is a bit of a slow burn, with its power becoming evident over the course of several listens. The gradual and gentle build of the opening track, "Hopefulessness," acts as the perfect introduction to Barnett's intentional use of arrangements with this collection of songs. While the album maintains a generally mellow atmosphere, it also hits the crass and bold end of the spectrum with "I'm Not Your Mother, I'm Not Your Bitch" and contrasts that with glowing "Sunday Roast." Traversing across different tones and finding new grooves on songs like "Help Your Self" gives the album the diversity it needs within the same instrumentation and style that you expect from Barnett.

    Another switch on this album from the past was Barnett's lyrical shift from imaginative, detailed stories to a proverb-filled reaction to her daily life. "Nameless, Faceless" is a real barb into the gut of the men and their respective assumed place in society versus the experience of a woman. Its rocketing guitars pack as much of a punch as the chorus of "I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them/I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Women are scared that men will kill them." Vulnerability is also an album theme that pokes through on several tracks. Barnett digs into the grit of feeling the pressure and her ability to process it on "Need A Little Time," creating the perfect fervent release of said pressure while comparing it to shaving your head. Finding an ideal balance of honest lyricism and vulnerability in harmony with searing guitar riffs, Barnett delivers a letter of equal frustration and caution to someone she attempts to maintain a relationship with on "Charity." The images conjured from these tracks are grounded in a soured reality that pervades the whole set of new songs.

    Growing in fame and grinding in an almost constant state of touring has left Barnett with a new but somehow equally relatable set of experiences and emotions that she has adeptly set to song on Tell Me How You Really Feel. While this album lacks some of the instant familiarity and screamability of her previous material, it makes up for it with polish, confidence, and complexity.

    Courtney Barnett returns to Philadelphia at The Fillmore on October 23rd.

    **Donate $20 or more to Y-Not Radio to receive a copy of Tell Me How You Really Feel on CD. Click here for details.

    Review by Shana Hartzel

    Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Sparkle Hard (Matador)

    Given a long enough career, any new music will inevitably be judged against an artist's earliest, most vital work. Legacy acts, when releasing new material, are frequently really reviewed on their earlier work. This is doubly true when a musician moves from one band to another. As such, it's hard to evaluate Stephen Malkmus' work with The Jicks without speaking of Pavement, which is ultimately unfair. On Sparkle Hard, there's not a lot to connect to the unexpected affectations of Slanted and Enchanted from over 25 years ago. The strongest link is "Shiggy," which feels like a Pavement track that got a bit older, tired, and more organized. It's a mid-tempo rocker, but it definitively rocks. Elsewhere, "Future Suite" travels some of the disjointed roads of yesteryear. Throughout the album, Malkmus employs his trademark noodling guitar to flesh out many of the songs, but for the most part, it is his voice alone that links us to the past. The music itself feels like it has aged, not poorly, but noticeably, and its writer assumes the role of the sort of elder statesman that he would likely have scoffed at as a younger man.

    This said, it's not remotely a complaint to see an artist change, and the more standard approach benefits the album tremendously. While "Bike Line" seemingly tries a bit hard to say something profound, the straightforward sweet indie rock of "Middle America" feels comfortable and charming, words one would never use for Pavement. The reverb-heavy, spacey "Rattler" feels a bit lost in the verses (though the crunchy solos come to the rescue), but the quiet "Kite" implements similar effects more comfortably. Malkmus' sound is changing, mellowing, and arguably maturing. He's not really as comfortable in youthful irony these days as he is in stories which feel at turns wistful and at others cautionary. That's not to say it's missing completely ("Brethren" especially gives a bit of classic cheek), but it is to say that when the simple, twangy "Refute" comes by, with an equally toned-down Kim Gordon dueting, the listener can hardly be surprised by the mood. Malkmus seems to be finding his footing anew with age, and the best of this album suggests the next chapter, whether with the Jicks or otherwise, is just beginning.

    Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks play The TLA on June 16th.

    Review by Alex Lupica

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