It seems everybody is talking about Courtney Barnett nowadays. From what I’ve read Courtney Barnett is super cute in her own slacky manner and, in one way or another, also equals greatness with her garage-poppy music. Well, if that’s the case, I ask myself what’s not to love? With all this enthusiasm surrounding her persona I hope you don’t mind if I share my thoughts about her debut album that was recently put out on her own Milk! label. Please, sit down and listen up.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit officially counts as Barnett’s first full work. Yet, if you look her up on the internet you’ll quickly find out her first real work was already available in 2013. Her double EP, released on a single disk, A Sea of Split Peas might have the length of an full album but for some reason wasn’t regarded as one. At least Barnett herself didn’t gave it that weight. Instead with the release of this double EP she simultaneously announced she was working on a genuine debut which to her two years to complete. A Sea of Split Peas’ mix of laid back pop and upbeat rock branded the singer-songwriter and guitarist from Melbourne as a slacker. Slackers, hm… come to think of it, the term does as a nice ring to it. Beck is our favorite slacker from The United States and Mac DeMarco is his Canadian equivalent since a few years. I for one have never heard of musical slackers coming from Down Under, although they must be easy to find with all that sunny weather. So there’s a smart branding move, however I reckon the comparison with Beck and DeMarco maybe is a bit too shallow for there more to Courtney Barnett then you’d might expect.
Let me start with some good advice for those who are familiar with Barnett’s earlier work. Some tracks on this debut lean against the genre of bubblegum rock and break away from her more rambling work on A Sea of Split Peas. On most of those numbers this works out fine. Sadly the first track musically isn’t a great tone setter for a debut. Although the lyrics are mature, the music is too sweet and teeny. I don’t know what went wrong but I would advise you to skip this track and pretend ‘Pedestrian at Best’ is the albums opener. Now here the tone setter I want to hear, just crack up your volume and Barnett explosive guitar play will blow you away. Together with the witty chorus, “[…] You tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you. Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami honey. I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny”, this song is the best I’ve heard this year. It’s cheeky, loose and firm at the same time. Exactly these three things frequently return on the album.
Barnett’s songwriting skills are pretty awesome. If you just read the lyrics without listening to the songs it almost seems you’re reading a blog of a young girl who’s very keen in analysing her own life and relating this to her direct surroundings in detail. For an example, on ‘An Illustration Of Loneliness’ she sings: “There’s oily residue dripping from the kitchen. It’s art-deco necromantic chic, all the dinner plates are kitsch with Irish Wolf Hounds, French baguettes wrapped loose around their necks. I think I’m hungry, I’m thinking of you too” The album is full of this sort of clever connections. Musically Sometimes I Sit regularly shifts from being loose in a dreamy sense to firm and jumpy indie rock. The dreamy ‘Depreston’, easily is my second favorite on this album, is a reflective elaboration about the wish to settle down in the suburbs. While looking at a affordable house over there, she realizes the house is full of memories of the previous occupant. Leveling down the house to start over doesn’t seem respectful and moreover… she doesn’t have to money to do that. Well there your slacker logics then. Another lovely dreamy track is ‘Small Poppies’ thats starts out small but within seven minutes develops into a slacker-blues track about mowing the lawn or not. As said before the album also as a firmer side to it. ‘Aqua Profunda!’ and ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’ have some tight guitar play on it creating some stomping garage-rock. Again, on occasions, these tracks have the tendency to become too catchy if you ask me. On the other hand it also keeps the album on the move.
So let me think about the question if Courtney Barnett made a worthwhile debut. I believe she did. For a someone who is said to be good for nothing she did put an awful lot of hard work in it. Witout a doubt Sometimes I Sit will cause her to finally breakthrough outside Australia. I say finally because I expected A Sea of Split Peas was her ticket to Europe and America. If you set aside a few flaws, the whole album is varied enough to play when you’re having a cup of coffee with a friend on a sunny saturday morning yet also is nice enough to hear when you want to spend some time alone. If you’re thinking about supporting your local record store today (It’s Record Store Day!) and you don’t know what to buy, this is the choice for you.
Label: Milk!, 2015
- Elevator Operator (3:14)
- Pedestrian at Best (3:50)
- An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York) (3:10)
- Small Poppies (6:59)
- Depreston (4:52)
- Aqua Profunda! (1:59)
- Dead Fox (3:33)
- Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party (2:46)
- Debbie Downer (3:17)
- Kim’s Caravan (6:47)
- Boxing Day Blues (3:02)
Review by Wander Meulemans // 180415