Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett is currently one of the most exciting singer songwriters around. With the likes of Ellen Degeneres already a fan, she’s making a name for herself by means of slacker rock riffs, witty, observational lyrics and a deadpan vocal tone which draws the listener in instantly. Having previously released a double EP which featured standout tracks Avant Gardener and History Eraser, Barnett has now released her debut solo album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Read on for a full album review.
Elevator Operator opens the album with Barnett’s imagery-heavy, storylike lyrics being underpinned by a catchy melody and fuzzy guitar stabs. “I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly” she sings as she tells the story of a wannabee elevator operator who references the Sims and women with snakeskin bags. “Don’t jump off that roof, you’re still in your youth” she continues, before Pedestrian at Best continues with fuzzy guitars and a huge chorus. “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” sings Barnett, before adding, “I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny”. An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York) goes on to focus on a more danceable rhythm, emphasized by a fuzzy bassline and occassional guitar jabs. As with everything Barnett sings about, the lyrics are so observational and ‘real’ that it’s almost as if you’re experiencing everything first hand with her at your side. Small Poppies’ twangy guitar line and sleepy, meandering vocals beg for a lazy Sunday afternoon feeling as Barnett claims, “I bet it’s a bore being you”. Depreston, on the other hand, is more optimistic with a happier guitar line and lyrics about coffee machines, the Australian town of Preston and, “a Californian bungalow in a cul-de-sac”. The rest of the song continues to describe the aforementioned bungalow as Barnett sings about its shower, bedroom walls and a “man in Vietnam with a van”.
The two-minute long Aqua Profunda! is the most upbeat song on the record with a catchy melody line and lyrics about swimming, before Dead Fox’s pounding drums and pesticide-referencing lyrics intertwine nicely with a happy chorus and clever guitar work. “Taxidermy Kangaroos are littered on the shoulders” sings Barnett before a brief reference to Jackson Pollock precedes a grung-y guitar interlude, all of which makes way for the upbeat rocker Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party. “You’re saying definitely maybe, I’m saying probably no” is one of the best lines on the album, something which is hard to pick considering the supreme quality of Barnett’s lyrics. Debbie Downer keeps the pace upbeat, with Barnett singing, “Don’t stop listening, I’m not finished yet, I’m not fishing for your compliments” in the chorus, ahead of penultimate track Kim’s Caravan. An opening minute of restrained bass and haunting guitar lines accompanies a demure vocal tone and lyrics about dead seals and Jesus. “I guess he just wants to die” sings Barnett of the seal, agreeing that she would want to die too if her environment was also pumped with oil. The album closes on the acoustic Boxing Day Blues, which sees Barnett sing, “you love the idea of me” as slow guitars play the album out and slowly draw its curtain.
On the whole, Barnett’s debut album is a very strong record, even if it does wander off at times and doesn’t show signs of coming back. Her lyrics are witty and smart, something which is seldom seen today. She may not be a household name just yet, but that day looks set to come someday soon. “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” she sings on Pedestrian at Best, yet it couldn’t be further from the truth.