Sit and listen to Courtney Barnett
Erin McAuliffe | Monday, March 23, 2015
Melbourne artist Courtney Barnett’s debut album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Think,” has been much anticipated by fans and music critics alike after her success with “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas,” her U.S. tour and appearances at festivals like Bonnaroo and Glastonbury. The album, which has been streaming on iTunes’s “First Play” and was released today, has been put on a pedestal — and it won’t disappoint you.
Barnett’s lyrics hone in on eccentric yet relatable experiences. Barnett focuses on incidents that are not necessarily overlooked but rather reflected on as odd for a moment before being filed away into the back of one’s mind in the next.
Her keen annunciation is marked by her Australian accent, which remains noticeable in all her songs and colors her spoken, conversational delivery.
During a session at Australian radio station Triple J, Barnett covered Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead.” She discussed how she is frequently asked to rap, as her lyrics are “wordy.” At first, this may seem like an inane way to describe lyrics — yes they’re wordy, they are words — however, in context of her lucid but rambling storytelling, “wordy” sums up Barnett’s style.
Her droning and circuitous lyrics and instrumentals on the longest tracks, “Small Poppies” and “Kim’s Caravan,” emulate the mundane routines of life. “I drank ’til I was sinking / Sank ’til I was thinking” croons Barnett on “Kim’s Caravan,” crafting a rhythmic lyrical pattern reminiscent of falling into the sort of whirlpool she describes.
She combines quirky happenings with angst and the mundane to create relatable, humorous scenes through her lyrics. Her songs have a storytelling aspect, yet they don’t attempt to impose meaning on the listener. This idea aligns her with the anti-folk genre: raw but unassuming.
Although many, such as Rolling Stone, reflect on Barnett’s “chill,” I would argue that although her music has an under-processed charm — her 10-song album was recorded in 11 days — she is about as chill as an anxious insomniac hoarder.
Barnett never stops being a songwriter: collecting moments, jotting them down, coming back to them and formulating lyrics from what she has recorded. It is this mindset that allows her to produce such seemingly bizarre yet inherently realistic situations in her songs.
“When I see something that interests me or hear someone say something interesting, I try to make a copy of it on whatever piece of paper is close by,” she told the New York Times. “A simple line about that moment can jog my memory of the other things around it pretty well.”
She shoots with a Polaroid camera to accomplish the same effect: “You can carry it around with you for the rest of your life and remember that one moment,” she said.
Thankfully for us, we can also experience that laughable (“give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey — “Pedestrian at Best”), dark (“I dreamt I stabbed you with a coat hanger wire” — “Small Poppies”) or putrescent (“a possum Jackson Pollock is painted on the tar” — “Dead Fox”) moment through her songs.
This lyrical style, built on taut and vivid description, is on show during “Elevator Operator”, a track that unfolds like a short story. A man with “a thick head of hair who worries he’s going bald” decides to skip work, gifting his tie to a homeless man as he heads to a tall building and trips in a pothole on the way. In the elevator he reaches for the rooftop button at the same time as an overly Botox-ed woman. The lyrics transition into dialogue: the woman urges him not to commit suicide and he says that he just likes to look at people from the roof to “imagine he’s playing Sim City.” This humorous, nostalgic response is contrasted with another: the idea that the woman is projecting her feelings onto him. The man goes on to admit that while not suicidal, he is “idling insignificantly.”
“Idling” and “insignificance” are recurring themes throughout the album. Barnett addresses her own insignificance, settling on her zodiac sign as a good indicator of who she is — “I’m a fake, I’m a phoney, I’m awake, I’m alone, I’m homely, I’m a Scorpio” — on gritty lead single “Pedestrian at Best.” She describes the time she spends idling “awake at four, staring at the wall, counting all the cracks backwards in my best French” in all too relatable “An Illustration of Lonelieness.”
She also addresses society’s insignificance due to idling on “Kim’s Caravan.” Upon noticing a dead seal on the beach, she goes into society’s, and her own, failed efforts to support the Great Barrier Reef: “I would wanna die too, with people pouring oil into my air, but to be fair I’ve done my share, guess everybody’s got their different point of view.”
Barnett’s reflections on waiting room books and organic vegetables may sound mundane, but when paired with her garage-esque guitar interludes, distinct captivating croon and vivid lyricism, you will be yearning to just sit and listen to them.
Related Artists: Sharon van Etten, Cherry Glazer, Laura Marling
Best Tracks: “Depreston,” “Elevator Operator,” “Dead Fox”
Label: Mom + Pop Music