Courtney Barnett’s latest may be her masterpiece – Sounds Like

Written by Joseph Earp on 15th May, 2018
Courtney Barnett’s latest may be her masterpiece – Sounds Like

Listen, I know usually this column starts with a personal anecdote – a (tenuous) lede that spills out into the first review. But we simply don’t have the fucking time for that this month. Thanks to whatever force, divine or otherwise, controls album release dates, May is an embarrassment of riches. We don’t have a word to spare for any of that artsy journalistic shit, I’m afraid.

That said, it’s also worth quickly rounding up the late April records not covered by our last column, so here goes. Confident Music For Confident People, the debut record from Confidence Man, is a glossy, sexy delight, and one of the most impressive dance releases of the last few years. The Sciences, the surprise release from stoner metal pioneers Sleep, is precisely as exacting and sludgey as one would hope. Djarimirri (Child Of The Rainbow), the posthumous release from Gurrumul, is devastatingly beautiful, cartwheeling between the fragile and the defiant.

Best known as the musician behind the Pikelet moniker, Evelyn Ida Morris writes songs that are as hard to pin down as fog.

Nor have I stopped listening to Evelyn Ida Morris’ debut self-titled record under their own name. Best known as the musician behind the Pikelet moniker, Morris writes songs that are as hard to pin down as fog; piano-based heartbreakers that resist easy interpretation. ‘Freckles’, the record closer, is one of the most beautiful songs of the year so far, but it’s not worth pulling apart favourites from the record; Evelyn Ida Morris is a complete, fully-formed beast. There are only a few more impressive albums released this year.

I have also been obsessed with Joonya Spirit, the new album from Jaala. A bundle of corrugated iron, it owes more to the work of Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis than it does the indie rock touchstones that get trotted out ad nauseum these days. ‘Horn’ is wormy and imprecise; ‘Frogs Tears’ is all unsettled, overcaffeinated beauty. ‘Gwynne’ flirts with the kind of unhinged intensity that defines the best work of Spencer Krug. It’s a masterpiece.

Then there’s Mod Con’s debut record, Modern Convenience. It’s a musical tirade that has more clear-eyed intensity in its opener, ‘Scorpio’, than most post-punk albums of late have over their entire running time. Lead singer Erica Dunn pushes her voice till it breaks, chord structures get built up only to crumble. The whole thing has the feel of a bad acid trip, or a day of lay-offs at a business in trouble.

Now, before we run out of space without even really having begun, onto May. First up, we have A Laughing Death In Meatspace, the debut record from supergroup Tropical Fuck Storm. A burnt-out car of a record, the thing is a bundle of rusted sharp edges all loaded with tetanus. Fans of frontman Gareth Liddiard’s other band The Drones will recognise the busted-out poetry that made that group one of the most important in Australia. But this isn’t just Drones mk 2. It’s stranger – lumpier – even than Feelin’ Kinda Free, a freewheeling, unfettered record that incorporates elements of hip hop, post-punk, death metal and more.

The apocalypse hangs heavy over the thing, but it’s more John Waters than it is Lars Von Trier. Liddiard can’t help himself; even when Rome is burning to the ground, he’s gotta fucking dance. Tracks like ‘Antimatter Animals’ are among the most mischievously entertaining he’s ever written. “Your politics ain’t nothing but a fond fuck you,” he hisses across that track; later, on the extraordinary ‘The Future Of History’ he warns that if IBM has the power to make your dreams come true, you could always say the same about your nightmares too.

‘Meatspace’ is what silicone valley bros dismissively call the real world, and A Laughing Death shares that same detached attitude towards people and the irrational, illogical things they do. Both ‘Rubber Bullies’ and ‘Chameleon Paint’ are about online gangs of roving tone warriors looking to bully fellow left-wingers. ‘A Laughing Death In Meatspace’ is about illness and mortality. Even the record’s gentle, surf-rock indebted instrumental track, is called ‘Shellfish Toxin’. It’s as much an anthropological study as it is an album; a huddle of sad humans dissected in the middle and arranged in tanks of formaldehyde like a Hirst.

Time may well reveal Tell Me How You Really Feel to be not just Barnett’s masterpiece, but one of the most profoundly realised Australian records of the last decade.

Then there’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, the new record from Courtney Barnett. It’s a darker album than her debut, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit; an unsparing, dense thing. On ‘Nameless Faceless’ she addresses murder, trolls, and assault. On ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’, she howls back at the haters, her voice run through ten miles of barbed wire. The world is troubled, and Barnett knows it; the Sunday morning panic attack that ‘Avant Gardener’ pivoted on is a once a day rather than a once a week affair now, and the whole world seems to be going through it.

But Barnett’s most unique skill has always been her precision, and while trawling through all that bad psychic territory, she picks out her mission statement: the world is shit, people can be cruel, but still, despite all the odds, goodness persists. Her friends are “sweet relief”; even when people do nothing, she thinks they’re doing fine; and though she gets sad, as on ‘City Looks Pretty’ she can pull it together.

That, ultimately, is what is left in the wake of closer ‘Sunday Roast’; Barnett’s deep, warmly-felt connection with people, and all the things they are capable of. Time may well reveal it to be not just her masterpiece, but one of the most profoundly realised Australian records of the last decade.

ALBUM OF THE MONTH: A dead tie between Tell Me How You Really Feel and A Laughing Death In Meatspace

DUD OF THE MONTH: No duds here, friend.

The article was originally published on Brag Magazine