Like any good parent who happens to love music, I want to share my tastes and sensibilities with my child. She’s been exposed to her parents’ favorite music her entire life – and yes, my partner even placed headphones around her abdomen so that our daughter heard her mom’s favorite albums in utero. Even at 3-1/2 years old when she wants to listen to the soundtracks for her favorite movies on repeat whenever we’re in the car, certain music that her parents like enters the rotation.
That’s why, for the past year, I’ve listened to a different track off Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit every single weekday afternoon. As soon as I buckle my daughter up in her car seat for the 5-minute drive home from her preschool, she starts asking for “Courtney, please!” She loves that album so very much. And though I can’t quite determine exactly what and why she likes it – it could be the energetic guitar, the pop pacing, or the sing-song quality to Barnett’s voice as she intones her whimsical, stream of consciousness lyrics – what matters is that it’s NOT a Disney tune, and it’s created by an extremely talented woman.
So, when I finally obtained a copy of Barnett’s new sophomore album, released on her own Milk! record label, I was kinda torn emotionally.
On one hand, Tell Me How You Really Feel represents the very natural growth and development to her sound, especially in light of the touring she’s done in the past three years and the excellent album she put out with Kurt Vile last year. But on the other hand, it possesses a darker, more mature, and more introspective tone and timbre than her 2015 debut full-length that I’m not sure I feel comfortable sharing it with my daughter until she’s a few years older.
Granted, it’s not like my preschool-aged kid will be able to process Barnett’s ruminations on fame and artistry, so I’m not necessarily worried about the subject matter. It’s more that these newer tunes feature a more brooding brand of indie rock, the kind that marries Vile, Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, and Nirvana with breathless ease. It’s the sort of stuff I love, and the stuff I hope she’ll enjoy later in life, but it’s not what she likes hearing now.
Even so, my kid won’t hear the delightfully punky track called “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” for a while, simply because I don’t want her singing the chorus at school.
Maybe I’m selling my daughter short. She might like hearing tunes written by a musician who’s a glorious blend of Neko Case, War on Drugs, and Tracy Chapman, the sort of music that manages to be introspective without being completely disaffected. You see, the strength of Tell Me How You Really Feel remains Barnett’s ability to feature pop ideals in arrangements while letting the melodies and guitar textures breathe. Sure, the music doesn’t have the over-the-top crackle and snap of its predecessor, but an album doesn’t have to be packed with upbeat zingers to have energy and verve.
That’s not to say that we’re forced to contend with 10 tracks of dour guitar rock. “Nameless, Faceless,” “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence,” and “Help Your Self” bubble and ripple with abundant pep while also showcasing her deepening penchant for thoughtfully self-critical lyrics. And even the overtly mopier tunes don’t showcase Barnett wallowing like a Morrissey-esque sad sack. “Hopefulness,” “Charity,” and “Sunday Roast” instead display an artist willing to ask the tough questions her status in the industry and about her art in general.
And that’s what I want to hear from a great musician:
A willingness to grow and continually develop with every album she releases. I don’t want Courtney Barnett to sit still – not for my sake or my daughter’s, even if that means she won’t be able to truly appreciate how good Tell Me How You Really Feel is for several years. And once she’s ready for this record, Barnett will have deepened her catalog and sound even further, becoming even more of an artistic influence upon my kid.
Besides, it’s not like I want to listen to Disney movie soundtracks for any longer than I have to.
Despite all of the cliches you might have heard about the place, Adam P. Newton actually enjoys living in Texas – most of the time. He currently creates and curates content for a marketing agency, and in his limited free time, he writes a memoir about his journey through music called “Explaining Grownup Music to Kids.”