“TRIGGER WARNING: The following feature contains themes and images that touch on mental health issues and substance abuse, and features violent scenes. I have chosen to explore my experience with comedy and gore, but please be cautious in continuing.”
So begins the music video for “Ur a Piece of S***”, the first single off Ali Barter’s latest album, Hello, I’m Doing My Best. In the video, Barter seems to play multiple versions of herself engaging in various forms of destructive behavior—binge eating, smoking, purging—until the final chorus, when each character is killed off surreptitiously by a knife-wielding assassin. The bleach blonde singer-songwriter—the real Barter—looks into a blood-soaked mirror and sings: “You’re life is a mess and so is mine. You’re a piece of s*** and so am I”.
Hailing from sunny Melbourne, Australia, Ali Barter has moved into a more bare-knuckled style since her first EP, Trip in 2012. Her debut album A Suitable Girl blasted through feminist, lovesick lyrics with super charged guitar. In an interview with Rolling Stone Australia editor, Rod Yates, Barter explained she had been listening to a lot of Weezer before recording. Two years on, clearly Pinkerton hasn’t gone back on the shelf.
The best bits of Hello, I’m Doing My Best are all fuzz pedals and power chords, reminiscent of those Y2K era wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, two-minute-thirty-second jams. “History of Boys” builds with tight, muted guitar until it explodes into the kind of fuzzed out emotional intensity Rivers Cuomo has been desperately pining for since the Green Album.
Barter has a voice that demands to be heard.
Literally, that’s a positive and a negative. She has the kind of high, nasal sound which will divide listeners like a knife through hot butter (personally, I enjoy it). It’s certainly the most recognizable element of her music, and is well suited for the sort of power-pop crooning she’s chosen to use it for. However, the instrumentation fails to match the tone of her vocals, so the album suffers from sounding like Barter is singing over the tracks instead of with them.
Figuratively, Barter’s voice also causes some trouble.
The Aussie indie-singer bravely explores her struggles with alcoholism and other forms of substance abuse through her lyrics, which are purposefully abrasive. There is a fine line between artful expression of a powerful sentiment and being slapped in the face. That line is often crossed.
In the bridge of “Ur A Piece of S***”, Barter speaks directly to her audience. “Put your hands up if your dad had an affair / Put your hands up if your mother never cared / Put your hands up for eating disorders, yeah!” And so on and so forth.
There’s a kind of principle that pop music should be “vague enough to dance to”. It may not be true in all cases, but there’s certainly something to be said for subtlety…
Barter gets it right on track no. 10, “This Girl”. An uplifting, driving ballad, helped by an ambient guitar that plays well off Barter’s voice. The fullest sounding song on an album whose serviceable instrumentation could have done well with a minor dose of ephemeralness.
(P.S. If you decide to check out Hello, I’m Doing My Best—which you should—I also suggest the overlooked 2015 album Ghost Notes by Veruca Salt, who I wouldn’t be surprised to find out were one of Barter’s influences.)
Recommended If You Like: Liz Phair, Alex Lahey, Charly Bliss, Bully
Recommended Tracks: History of Boys (3), This Girl (10)
Do Not Play: #2, 3, 5, 6, 8
Written by Lily Swanson on 12/02/2019