Published Oct 16, 2019Melbourne, Australia's Ali Barter released one of the better '90s alt-rock albums of 2017 with A Suitable Girl; its single, "Girlie Bits," garnered well-earned attention and all kinds of (warranted) Liz Phair comparisons. Followup Hello, I'm Doing My Best offers up more hook-filled, crisply produced radio rock with plenty of grit and soul from Barter, who remains a compelling presence throughout.
It's an album full of hard-hitting choruses and bright, crunchy guitars — as well as plenty of alt-rock touchstones. "History of Boys" is a frothy pop punk mix of Phair and Bif Naked; "Big Ones" opens with a playful rhythm section lifted straight from Weezer's "El Scorcho"; and there are hints of Alanis Morissette and (of a more recent vintage) Jenny Lewis throughout as well.
Mid-tempo slow burner "January" is perhaps the album's standout track, with a soaring vocal turn from Barter that comes straight from the heart. Indeed, themes of maturity, sobriety and past lifestyle choices hover over much of the album, and she inhabits this confessional mode in a generally endearing way — "Backseat," a tongue-in-cheek look back at scenester desperation features a voicemail from Barter spliced into the mix, attempting to enlist her crush to be on her new EP. It's an amusing touch, and the instrumentation and "be my boyfriend" refrain will certainly prick the ears of any lapsed Avril Lavigne fans.
Elsewhere Barter's authenticity may lean a little too far into sophomoric edginess for some. "Ur A Piece of Shit" contains the line "put your hands up for eating disorders (yeah!)," for instance, and while one could excuse it via appeals to the song's context (an empowerment rocker featuring various similar "shout-outs"), arguments for trivialization and tackiness could be levelled as well.
Barter's heart is in the right place however, and her gregarious, warts-and-all persona is frankly part of her appeal, building up enough goodwill during the rest of the album to forgive any momentary distastefulness. (Inertia)