courtney-barnett

The foggy strains of early single ‘History Eraser’ announced Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett as an artist worth watching in 2012; the similarly hazy vibes of songs like ‘Avant Gardener’ confirmed her as a distinctive songwriter with a pretty idiosyncratic approach to indie rock. A huge part of Barnett’s appeal lay in her lyricism. Here was an artist who, in the vein of Mike Skinner and early Arctic Monkeys, filled her songs with relatable real-world events; taking everyday personal experiences and making their mundanity relatably entertaining. Barnett’s twist on this is an underlying self-deprecating humour (“I’m not that good at breathing in,” went ‘Avant Gardener’).

Continuing in that vein, much of the lyrical content of ‘Sometimes I Sit….’, her first album proper (2013’s ‘The Sea of Split Peas’ was a combination of her first two EPs), is based on very personal observations and can sometimes feel like a genuinely funny friend reading out their diary to a backdrop of overdriven guitars. And there’s also the character-based storytelling of opener ‘Elevator Operator’, which, like Blur’s ‘Tracy Jacks’, relates the tale of an office worker driven to a breakdown by the pointlessness of it all. Its punchy, staccato guitar stabs are infused with Barnett’s now-clear gift for melody.

Single ‘Pedestrian At Best’ is then explosively raw, with a hectic vocal line delivered over a pleasingly heavy verse riff most closely reminiscent of Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On A Rope’, and fittingly the album is permeated with a strong nineties vibe – witness the rag-tag melodies of ‘Debbie Downer’, which recall The Breeders: probably the record’s catchiest moment. Then there’s ‘Small Poppies’, which sits firmly in the slacker rock camp; ponderous and stoned of tempo, seven solid minutes of bludgeoning, two-note lethargy.

Occasionally Barnett veers away from her half-sung, half-spoken vocal trope and towards a contrasting sweetness of delivery, as in the sweet chorus of ‘An Illustration Of Loneliness’. Meanwhile a musical departure comes with the quietly reflective atmosphere of ‘Kim’s Caravan’, which starts out like a lament sung in a partly submerged cave, while gathering waves of guitar echo around the rocky walls. The song builds and builds via torrents of squally guitar toward a primal, visceral climax that you don’t want to end, and neither does Barnett by the sound of it, who populates her songs with lines like “Don’t stop listening, I’m not finished yet”. She’s having a lot of fun doing what she’s doing, and that attitude is half of the reason why this is a debut album with such massive appeal.

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