ALI BARTER: A SUITABLE GIRL
Growing up is kind of like a pop song.
The structure is familiar; you know how it goes. But the ebbs and flows — the bold, uplifting highs and softly-tread lows — they’re quite another thing to really feel. Australian musician Ali Barter knows all about those pop-induced moods.
From the heart-stirring catharsis brought on by the anthems of her youth, to her own candid musical outpourings today, the artist understands a thing or two about capturing frank, sometimes messy emotions in memorable song form.
Her debut album, A Suitable Girl, is the result. And a new generation of music fans get something they need now perhaps more than ever. A kind of mirror. A voice that says simply and authentically “I get it.” Ali Barter is that voice.
The former choirgirl and triple j unearthed winner has been in no great rush to push out a full-length album. Sin ce 2015’s AB-EP she’s been busy living, and it was through living that she captured a couple of formative years worth of emotional growth. But the kind of scruffy growth that only comes through raw honesty — imperfect and unfiltered.
On her debut single ‘Girlie Bits,’ it manifests in frustration. Written on her holiday in a moment of beachside insecurity that most people could relate to, Barter says she was thinking “’I’m not skinny enough or not pretty enough’ and it just f*cking pissed me off that I was thinking that way.”
With its wry lyrics on gender expectations and bold, burning rallying cry of “you don’t understand what it’s like to be a man,” (uttered by an ex in a moment of amorous ignorance, apparently) the track is already being blasted in thousands of bedrooms across the country.
The melodic sway of ‘Cigarette’ conjures the puncturing experience of romantic invalidation (“I’m not the girl you wanted me to be”) with graceful command and rattling guitar. Meanwhile ‘Please Stay’ captures the gentle pleading of a woman feeling messed up and craving affection, with an adeptly Nina Gordon-like, almost cinematic affectation — both sweet and muddy.
In fact, those filmic sensations are the curling, pulsating waves Barter rides across the whole record. “I kind of wanted to write an album like a movie soundtrack,” she says. “When I have too much time on my hands I imagine what part of the movie each song would play in.”
The scene in which ‘Live With You’ plays would be right at the film’s climax — a revelatory moment that calls for long, breathy vocal highs and blistering guitar solos. The kind of song that could make anyone burst into a liberating run while out walking.
The honeyed crescendo of ‘Tokyo’ on the other hand, showcases Barter at her most vulnerable, emotionally — hurt and even hopeless. Yet there is power even here. With her heart on her sleeve and electric guitar strapped, Barter’s poignant yet common meditations become her listener’s medicine.
And in that sense, the entirety of A Suitable Girl, with all its nuanced emotional snapshots, becomes one big cleanse. Kind of like the feeling you get when you cry bittersweet tears at the peak of your favourite movie.
Takin g its name from Vikram Seth’s novel, A Suitable Boy, the album is also about the power of self-acceptance. Like rock music, that’s a power that reverberates. It can spread out and touch listeners like a wave. And it’s as simple as “owning the thoughts that go through your head,” says Barter. “I have them, you have them. We can let them go.”
She continues: “I just want a song that makes me feel good. I wanna know that the chorus is going to lift me up, and it’s going to be big and bright. Like a release.”
And if that involves turning up the volume, jumping on your bed and screaming the lyrics, even better.
Ali Barter’s debut album, A Suitable Girl, is out now.