The rise of Courtney Barnett is something that I’ve been keeping a close eye on. Call it a secret pleasure of mine. Not only because of the obscene amount of unique talent that she showed on her first releases, although that in itself was noteworthy, but more for how easily she was accepted and embraced by the international music community. She had achieved so much, reached so many people and even wound up on Ellen before her debut album had even had a chance to reach peoples ears. One might fear there is a lot to live up to, only get one crack at a debut and people are expecting big things. So how did she go…..?
Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is an effortlessly fun record, deep and heartfelt but also quirky and imaginative. As a singer and story teller she has this incredible ability to take the mundane and make it exciting and in the reverse, make us excited by using the most mundane of expressions. From the power ofPedestrian At Best to the inanity of Aqua Profounda this record is soaked to the bone in character and personality all wrapped up in a slacker indie rock blanket that just makes perfect sense. The tones are oldschool and loose wristed and the vibes are light-hearted and fun. There are elements of depth and darkness of course but even then it’s done with a uniquely tangential writing style that’s refreshing.
Courtney has this wonderful ability to let the cadence of her words and the words themselves carry her phrases. It’s refreshing to hear someone so confident in their words that they aren’t straddled by superfluous melody (perfect example: Pedestrian At Best). Sometimes there are extra syllables at the ends of phrases to get across exactly what she wants to say but it’s never in a Bob Dylan Hurricane kind of way. It’s smooth yet strict and calculated. And it works! And it brings me around to why I say this is an effortlessly fun record because that’s the way it seems to roll into the ears.
Easy and free. A lot of work must have gone into crafting something that feels so effortless and that’s one of the signs that Courtney is something special; the ability to create something so sharp and make it look (or sound) so easy. She never wanders too far from a standard four piece set up but she’s able to get some great variety of tones and vibes across the record. You’ve got the crooned jazzy Small Poppies with the surf guitar leads, the cute 1960’s style pop synth line floating around on Debbie Downer and there’s the darker Kim’s Caravan with its swelling crescendo.
Lyrically she shines straight off the bat with the wonderful story of Oliver Paul and his grand ambitions of being an Elevator Operator. Dead Fox is a dead set stand out for me. Vibey 60’s style backwards guitar opens what I feel is a song about being on the road and being stuck behind a truck. But fortunately Courtney would ever let her mind actually fixate on one particular topic throughout the song so instead we follow her through her unethical grocery shopping decisions to my favourite lines of the record where she describes the Hume Highway as having “Taxidermied Kangaroos are littered on the shoulders / A possum Jackson Pollock is painted on the tar”.
A friend asked me the other week what Australian poets I like and the only reasonable answer I could give was Glenn Richards (Augie March) and Courtney Barnett. These are the only two Australian writers that speak to me of an Australia I know and an Australia I care about. Everyone can (and has… can we stop now?) praise the likes of Flume and Chet Faker for what they’ve achieved with their music on a global scale but special mention has to be made for Barnett because she’s reaching out and making waves overseas with a uniquely Australian sound.
She’s not at their level yet and she might never reach that level of mainstream success but what she’s managed to do with her unique talent is nothing but impressive. It’s the soundtrack to a life, her life. A life in Melbourne, or on the road, or jetlagged on a mattress in NYC, told through Australian eyes, telling Australian stories with an Australian voice. She has a delivery as if she’s sitting there telling you a story right next to you. Doesn’t hide behind obscure lyrical metaphors, or deliberately catchy hooks, it’s straight up direct story telling.
For a seasoned veteran I would view this record as a big success but for a debut this is something else entirely. She has managed to deliver a fun exciting record full of humour, character, stories and memorable tunes. This won’t break her into the pop world but it will hopefully put her on the map of the global mainstream indie world (as run by Pitchfork) as someone we all have to nurture and support.
She is Australia’s answer to John Darnielle except listening to the stuff The Mountain Goats brought out when John was Courtney’s age now, we can already see she is light years ahead of where he was. Which means we’ve got a lot to look forward to. I just hope one day I get a cameo role in one of her songs. That’d be sweet.
Courtesy of The Happy Blog
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