Courtney Barnett album review

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Melissa Barrass checks out the much-anticipated debut longplayer from Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett:

Courtney Barnett is a national treasure. I know for a fact, she will go down in music history as one of the very best quintessential Australian acts. Her latest release, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is a successful continuation from her double EP release A Sea of Split Peas, and Barnett has lightly tapped into new territory with the wild and mosh-worthy Pedestrian at Best, which is currently on high radio rotation.

The album boasts 11 songs, with a couple edging the seven-minute mark. I have listened to it so many times I have maxed my preview plays, and was strongly considering requesting more listens. If this is anything to go by, fans are in for a large treat.

The opening track, Elevator Operator, is a typical Barnett tune. The lyrics seem to tell a story, poking at the topics of mental clarity, throwing routine away and removing oneself from the crazy lifestyles in which we live. It is catchy and easy listening, and the drumming in the chorus will have your head bopping and feet tapping.

Pedestrian at Best was a fantastic single release as it is a clear winner from the album. It is raw and aggressive, self-loathing, messy, angsty, sarcastic, pure Australian rock dabbling with pity and sarcasm. This is by far my favourite track on the album and has potential to go commercial. The chorus is so brilliant, it hooks the listener in from first play, and I found myself singing the lyrics in my head over and over, relating them to my own personal faults and frustrations. Not only is this song catchy, loud and fun, it is relatable. It taps into the average person’s everyday emotions and thoughts, and that’s why Barnett is so likeable. For someone who is a SOMEBODY, she really retains her modesty, and I think that has built her a strong character within the Australian music industry.

An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY) follows on from Pedestrian at Best with its raw nature, but features elements of sincerity in the lyrics. It’s a casual jam that busts into some delectable warpy and twisted guitar, preparing the listener for the comedown of Small Poppies, a sleepy, dreamy blues track that lyrically touches up on a relationship breakdown. It’s probably the bluesiest track on the album, and the protagonist ponders over her feelings as the song poetically swings back and forth, with sweet vocals and innocent lyrics (“Oh the calamity, I want to go to sleep”), to which then changes mood by the four-minute mark, and forms a frustrated edge through both aggressive guitar, vocals and lyrics (“Eye for an eye… why can’t we just talk nice?”). At this stage, the song is wild and messy, driving a climax of irritation that builds and then mellows out to reach the full seven-minutes, a memorable song from the album.

Depreston is a tongue-in-cheek, cruisy track, and like many of Barnett’s songs, relates to the listener in that the process of buying a house can be a harrowing experience, often filled with compromises relating to budgets, house expectations, “wooden floorboards or which way the doors face”. Barnett is obviously referring to a personal experience of looking for houses in Preston, north of Melbourne, where it’s a little out of her comfort zone due to a higher rate in crime, and being away from those “coffee shops” (most likely referring to Melbourne’s trendier suburbs). The song is largely depressing due to the lyrics, but there is a sense of intrigue and hint of nostalgia when the protagonist forgets her aesthetic desires in a home and becomes fond of the remaining artefacts and the stories they create, which have been left behind by the original owner of the deceased estate. For a song that seems highly likely to be shaped from experience, it is extremely well-written and her dead-pan elongated vocals are surprisingly still engaging, leaving the listener open to guess the next line. Whether she bought the house is not disclosed, I guess we will never know, and I really like how it ends so openly.

Aqua Profunda is a fun, dancy jam. Similar in sentiment to Pedestrian at Best, the song pokes fun at Courtney’s lack of athleticism and is fantastic to twist to with it’s exciting and punchy guitars in the chorus, and once again, amusing lyrics.

Following on is Dead Fox, another brilliantly written song that makes cheeky comments on environmental issues such as shark culling, pesticides and cars on the roads. I cannot help but notice the similarities between Courtney’s writing in this song and a typical Simpsons episode (bear with me here). You know how most Simpsons episodes start off with a strange beginning that helps build a glorious and surprising segue into the main story? Well this applies to this song, as Barnett truly wants to make her views heard before hitting the chorus that seems to align more with the track title of Dead Fox. The chorus cheekily mimics and simplifies the standard and infamous Aussie stickers “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you” that sits upon the rear end of most trucks on the road (if you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you – LinFOX anyone? Or am I just as usual, overthinking words again?).

Tracks 8 and 9 are not so much standouts, but Nobody Cares if you go to the Party has a fantastic riff, and is just a plain good Aussie rock jam that seems to reflect the feelings of most buggered Australians after work on a Friday evening – “I want to go out, but I want to stay home”. Debbie Downer on the other hand, is a lot less gripping then the other tracks on the album. The lyrics could slide into an episode of Daria, and be mildly interesting due to its context, but I found the song uninspiring, and hardly memorable in comparison to Kim’s Caravan.

Kim’s Caravan was an easy standout for me like Pedestrian at Best. At a long seven minutes, I enjoyed every second. The track starts off slow and melancholic, commenting on the Great Barrier Reef, dredging, and how it makes her sick. At 2:55 the tempo picks up and the song gains a gorgeous melodic uplift. Barnett’s vocals are emotional and poignant and along with the lyrics has a sense of hopelessness and vulnerability, “Take what you want from me”. Overall the track is as equally as powerful as Pedestrian at Best (at least in this case in the form of emotion), the guitar solos are brilliant, and Barnett’s voice is truly mesmerising and memorable. I feel elements of shoegaze and blues throughout the track that really appeals to me. I truly adore the line towards the end of the song “I can see Jesus and she’s smiling at me” as the track softly dwindles to an end with a heavy heart. Boxing Day Blues is a soft, quaint and romantic tune that doesn’t quite rise to the level of Kim’s Caravan, but is none the less a fitting candidate to close the album. I am still unsure how to interpret this song, but my guess is that Barnett is lyrically expressing personal freedom and how she is unable to settle down with ‘the one’ within a relationship “I’m not what you’re looking for, my house has an open door. You need a lock and a key”.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is flecked with Courtney’s usual everyday observations, sarcastic thoughts and dry humour. The album is catchy and honest with some standout tracks that will have you easily singing along, goofing off in your bedroom.

The album is released this Friday the 20th of March via Courtney Barnett’s own Milk Records and Remote Control. I seriously suggest you catch her on tour, buy her record or do both. No other options. Take your pick.

melissa barrass


Review by Melissa Barrass.