Album Review: Barns Courtney – Hands EP

By on Tuesday, 28th June 2016 at 12:00 pm

Bluesy alt-rocker Barns Courtney has been making a name for himself on the festival circuit this year. For starters, he’s appeared at Live at Leeds and SXSW 2016 (where he had a chat with TGTF’s Carrie) and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend. And he has a few more up his sleeve for the remainder of the year, including Latitude. He’s also been played on Huw Stephens’ show on BBC Radio 1 and recently performed his 2015 single ‘Fire’ on Conan O’Brien’s American late night programme, the tv debut for the track. Courtney released his new debut EP ‘Hands’ in late May.

The EP features four tracks, including an upbeat remix of his earlier ‘Glitter and Gold’ single and an atmospheric and drawling cover of Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody to Love’. Courtney’s throaty vocals, are, without sounding a tad dramatic, transcendental of time and place. I can’t help but think of the songs being sung from the top step of some suburban street in the Deep South, or else on a grimy city street corner during the Great Depression, which highlights the range of musical styles and influences that Courtney has drawn from.


Title track ‘Hands’ is evocative of the punchy indie-rock vein that Jake Bugg tapped into on his debut album. It’s one of those simply written songs that gets stuck inside your head, from words in the chorus (“so I’ve been walking / I’m gonna find you”) to the “woohoos” that feature throughout. With the thumping drums, crisp guitar and relatable lyrics, it’s easy to see why it was released as a single earlier this year.

‘Goodbye John Smith’ has a slower tempo to the rest of the EP, with piano being the sole instrument used on the track. In contrast to his other tracks, it’s a sorrowful ballad, with Courtney croaking out a tale of heartache. The verses are emotive and familiar to anyone that’s had to deal with the ending of a relationship or loss: “come on feet don’t fail me now / ‘cos I fall too hard if I hit the ground”. Then there’s the chorus, where Courtney talks of being afraid: ‘if I don’t see you ever again / oh where do I start?” This is layered with a harmony of vocals, emphasising the depth of emotion.


In 2015, Courtney released ‘Glitter and Gold’, which began to garner him some attention along with ‘Fire’, also shared last year. On the ‘Hands’ EP, the single is revisited in the form of a remix by Zibra. The original had a raw energy to it, with stomping drum beats and whole manner of percussion and stringed instruments jangling together. In contrast, the remix sees the rough edges that make ‘Glitter and Gold’ so appealing smoothed out, but with an electro texture to it, synth sounds pulsating in the background and featuring a distorted break.

‘Somebody to Love’ sees a gritty reimagining of Jefferson Airplane’s psychedelic rock hit that was released back in the ‘60s. The song that already underwent a rehash when it was remixed by the Boogie Pimps in 2003 and transformed into an electronic dance number. Different from both Jefferson Airplane and Boogie Pimps, Courtney strips the track bare and lays his vocals on thick and heavy. Supported by the scratch of percussion, softly-strummed guitars and an undertone of stomps and claps, ‘Somebody to Love’ takes on a eerie and distorted quality, accented by the occasional whine of an electric guitar.

All in all, it’s a debut EP that packs a punch and feels like it was drawn from the earth itself: it’s evocative, timeless and seriously good. Courtney has a number of your dates coming up, including in France, the States and the UK, and you should definitely check him out.


Barns Courtney’s debut EP ‘Hands’ is out now on Virgin EMI. For more on Barns Courtney on TGTF, go here.

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