Album Review: Barns Courtney - '404'

Despite a witty album title and a good concept, Barns Courtney’s sophomore record lacks the emotion and energy that permeates his live dynamic.

Everyone is familiar with that feeling of clicking on a website link, but instead of finding what you were looking for, you’re faced with that ‘Error: 404 Not Found’ message. In laymen’s terms, a 404 error occurs when a page simply does not exist anymore. Within his latest album 404, Barns Courtney explores this feeling in relation to growing up; losing the childhood aspect of yourself and coming to terms with the sudden disappearance of what you assumed would remain a part of you always.

It is clear that Courtney is writing from a completely different headspace compared to his 2017 album Attractions of Youth. A man once fuelled by his frustrations and struggles of getting into the music industry now finally has his foot in the door. Gone are the dirty, gritty, bluesy rock tones which made up his previous work; Courtney instead embraces a cleaner, electronic vibe, consisting of synths galore. Whether it be to appeal to a larger audience, break out into the charts or simply coming from a happier place, Courtney has for sure taken a different angle with his music in 404.

‘The second half of the record almost grinds to a halt…finishing on a slow note but without the gravitas perhaps Courtney was hoping for’

Opening with Hollow, Courtney’s new pop inspired direction is laid out plain and simple for all to hear. Despite the vocals being recorded in one take and being largely improvised, the highly electronic production hinders his natural talent and skill. Instead of feeling truthful and raw, the track can’t help but feel calculated. Not to say that this is an inherently negative thing; the song works as a fun dance track, however the method in which it was recorded feels confusing and wasted for the finished product; losing the raw, authenticity which must have been the aim.

404 peaks early with Courtney’s previously released singles You and I and “99”, these tracks perfectly balancing the new cleaner sound without abandoning Courtney’s bluesy rock roots. Two standouts from the album follow on with London Girls and Fun Never Ends, both exuding energy. If anyone has been lucky enough to experience Barns Courtney perform then they will know fully well that he is above all else a showman. Running around stage, getting all sweaty in a crowd and generally putting on a performance is what Courtney does best. These two tracks reflect this. They manage to evolve Courtney’s music enough to feel fresh but not lose grip of what fans have come to love with catchy riffs, smashing of guitars and gritty, solid vocals.

‘A man once fuelled by his frustrations and struggles of getting into the music industry now finally has his foot in the door.’

Unfortunately, the end of the album begins to fall flat and by the time track number eight, Castaway, fails to really take off, you’re left wondering when and if the album will pick up again. The second half of the record almost grinds to a halt with Babylon and Cannonball finishing on a slow note but without the gravitas perhaps Courtney was hoping for.

It’s difficult not to compare 404 to Courtney’s previous album Attractions of Youth, being a breakthrough hit and putting his name on the map. The evolution of artist’s is healthy, natural and expected. There are no gripes particularly with the change in musical genre; it’s the emotional, personal and visceral components which seem to be lacking this time around. You can’t help but escape the feeling that despite a smart, witty album title and a good concept, the drive behind this album was, to put simply, lacking emotion and energy. It is a shame that 404 loses steam towards the end, as the first half of the album is a fun, fresh concoction of pop and rock.

Barns Courtney will be swinging by Rescue Rooms on the 20th October as part of The 404 Tour. I for one cannot wait to hopefully have my opinion swayed regarding the second half of this album after watching Barns Courtney do what he does best – entertain a crowd.

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