Barns Courtney

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404 Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Barns Courtney named his second album 404 after the Internet warning that there is nothing located at your destination. Unsurprisingly, 404 teems with references to emptiness, a longing that's evident from the album's opening track -- and lead single -- "Hollow." In addition to providing a thematic salvo, "Hollow" indicates what's in store musically on the rest of 404: it's bright, loud, and active, gaining momentum from Courtney's bellow, bleeping synths, and stomping rhythms. Even the slow tunes on 404 are given this overdriven, oversaturated treatment, a combination that suggests a lone, human voice howling the void. For as much as this digital racket captures a bit of contemporary existentialism, it's also true that 404 is designed as a modern pop album, too, where the darkness lurks in the corner and is overshadowed by shiny, clanging hooks clamoring for attention. It's to Barns Courtney's credit that even when he's surrounded by a din that's constructed of equal parts of Imagine Dragons, the 1975, and James Bey, he comes across as a human presence. Maybe he hits his marks too squarely and with too much volume, but he does give his angst charisma and melody, which is what helps sell the alienation behind 404.

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