Album Review: Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

1 Courtney Barnett (diymag.com)

Magpie eyes: Courtney Barnett sits, possibly thinks. (photo: diymag.com)

Courtney Barnett

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop)

1 BarnettCourtney Barnett is the latest pin-up in a long line of observational songwriters whose remarkably specific tales precisely capture the imaginations of particular groups. Arguably the past decade’s pre-eminent commentator is Alex Turner, who hoovered up the grim glamour of urban debauchery and refracted his findings into songs with a rapid-fire energy to match. For countless listeners, Saturday nights and Sunday mornings had never felt more sharply rendered. With 2013’s Double EP and her début album proper, Courtney Barnett achieves a similar success in a different field, tapping into the bewildering quandaries faced by those attempting to navigate the more trivial moments of fledgling adulthood. Sometimes I Sit… is littered with references to the most mundane of occurrences, namechecking public humiliation, urban insomnia, and the gloom of house-hunting, and exploring the humour and the disquiet triggered by such moments.

Naturally, as is always the case with this experiential brand of lyricism, some listeners will find more common ground with this album than others. Nevertheless, what remains undoubtable is that Barnett is an exceptionally likeable narrator. Her deadpan Melbourne twang, bone-dry sense of humour and gently-wrought weariness present her as a talented storyteller unclouded by affectation. It’s already clear that Barnett can spin a yarn with the best of them – as ‘Avant Gardener’ made apparent in 2013 – but just as captivating is how endearing her presence can be. Hers is compulsively enjoyable company, with the next charming analogy or punchy refrain never far away.

As with Barnett’s previous work, Sometimes I Sit… is forged on foundations of thumping, fuzz-flecked garage rock. Although full of homespun appeal, there’s nothing to elevate such noise above pleasantly rustic listening, but it’s Barnett herself who gives this music its spark of life, her careening vocals bringing an essential flourish to the earthy, tumbling arrangements. Even after all the jigsawed couplets and morbidly funny twists have been unearthed, the way Barnett’s words bounce off of her musical backing is so well-executed that their charm shines on multiple listens.

The peppy stomp of ‘Elevator Operator’ doesn’t waste a second in establishing the record’s welcoming, wandering tone, setting up a shaggy-dog story which culminates in the protagonist denying suicidal thoughts from a rooftop: “I come up here for perception and clarity; I like to imagine I’m playing SimCity.” It’s pretty daft, of course, but Barnett delivers this – as with much on Sometimes I Sit… – with a lightness of touch, nixing any notions of self-seriousness from the get-go. On the fantastic ‘Pedestrian at Best’, she unloads her neuroses as if she’s on the edge of a panic attack, tripping over her syllables in a rush to force the pressure out of her chest. The song also boasts the album’s most visceral chorus, and amid the witticisms and crunching chords, Barnett’s own frustration still echoes loud and clear.

Across the album, the amusing asides are kept in check by a sense of encroaching fatigue, and it’s on the album’s two longest cuts that Barnett bores most deeply into her own anxieties. The structure of ‘Small Poppies’ resembles a strung-out carousel ride, the squalling instrumentation complementing Barnett as she circles herself, spiralling into despair over her own identity – or perceived lack thereof. ‘Kim’s Caravan’ is queasier still, Barnett tipping into hopeless exhaustion as she stares down an environment on the brink of decimation. It’s hardly skin-curling stuff, but such moments bring a greater depth to a collection which could be perceived as negligible by unsympathetic ears.

But regardless of how much one is able to invest into it, Sometimes I Sit… is delightful because of its humanity. Barnett could be your best friend relaying a story about a swimming misadventure or organic vegetables, but she goes one further than your average raconteur by delivering it in a tumbling slam-poetry style which veers between wryly amusing and quietly touching. Whether it stands up to scrutiny in a decade’s time is anyone’s guess, but Barnett is one of the brightest voices of her moment, and her début is warm, witty, and frequently wonderful. Especially for twentysomethings in the throes of an existential time crisis.

“Give me all your money, and I’ll make some origami, honey.”

08/04/15

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Posted on April 8, 2015, in The Music World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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