On her early stuff – her first two EPs, and later, her debut album – Courtney Barnett made a reputation for her way with words and her slightly can’t-be-arsed view of the world. And then that became really popular: a relatively big name on both sides of the Atlantic (as well as in her home country, Australia) and a bunch of collaborations with some indie luminaries. And now, a second full-length, with the weight of all that expectation it carries. Tell Me How You Really Feel proceeds to be uncomfortable, at least initially: it’s like the person who had the right combination of words wasn’t sure of how to say things, if she should ever. But that’s the message across the album, anyway. The stakes are now bigger, and clearly there’s more to ponder than descriptions of suburban Melbourne. Courtney succeeds by channeling that uncertainty, that discomfort, into an album that initially seems more introspective than expected, but later sees her rise above the nadir and continue to crunch. It may feel slightly less potent than her debut – or perhaps slightly less whimsical, considering the hand-drawn cover art of her earlier releases – but then we ought to remember there are bigger things at stake now. She may not have the definitive last word, but the struggle towards even making sense of it is the beauty of this record. [NB] | 4/5
Early into Lotta Sea Lice – an unexpected collaboration between Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – I found myself going back to another relatively recent collaboration album, that of Adam Green and Binki Shapiro. There was a comfort in that record, although perhaps it’s partly down to the decision to mine some polished version of lush 60s folk pop. I’ll admit that realization happened during a moment when the two singers – he, incredibly laid back; she, incredibly detailed – had some harmonies going on. “Wow, this is something.” It’s an unlikely record, yet it’s an incredibly enjoyable one. Both played up to each other’s strengths and actually delivered a collaboration record where it’s not two people putting things together and hoping something sticks. It’s like they have been working together for decades, like their music have influenced each other all this time. Listen to how effortless they cover each other’s songs (I barely recognized Kurt’s take on Courtney’s “Out of the Woodwork”, from A Sea of Split Peas – it languished nicely) or songs from others (there’s an inevitable sweetness to Courtney’s take on “Fear Is Like A Forest”, from her wife Jen Cloher). But the best part is when they take each other’s sensibilities and just meld, even if it’s a song about writing songs. In its sweet, meandering pace, Lotta Sea Lice is a thrill. [NB] | 4/5
We’re closing up shop for another year, which means our obligatory look at the year that was – and, like in the past two years, it’s in the form of ten songs, arranged alphabetically by artist. And it’s been an interesting year, indeed. Pop music was, once again, no longer a guilty pleasure. The much-anticipated comeback of guitar music did not happen, but we had some genre-pushing, if not outright weird, alternative anyway. We’ve seen new acts make a legitimate splash, but it wasn’t for the sake of a new voice. We’ve seen old acts make triumphant returns, but nostalgia wasn’t the biggest thing. Things have not settled down to the way people want it to be (and that could mean anything depending on who you ask) but things have never looked this good in recent years either. It is weird. Interesting, but weird.
Perhaps the most mind-blowing – forgive my use of the term; I couldn’t think of anything else – thing about Courtney Barnett’s music is just how well-written it is. They put the Aussie under the slacker category: the music is the laid-back kind of lazy, the lyrics just seem to come out of her head. But a closer listen to Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit reveals just how painstakingly crafted the songs are. There’s an uncanny sense of timing that you’ll get when you really pay attention to the record (and go past the admittedly typical sounds, arguably part of its charm). You’ll be surprised at how she suddenly drifts to sentimentality – even on a song about mundane things, like “Depreston”, although arguably houses getting more expensive does make you sentimental – and then there’s an observation you don’t expect her to make, and you have a grin on your face. That, perhaps, is the appeal of Courtney Barnett: underneath that half-arsed, lazy imagery is someone who just yearns to be heard, to be listened to in return. It’s disarming, how effectively she does it. [NB] | 5/5
“Pedestrian at Best” by Courtney Barnett | I’ve been waiting for this: the first taste off Courtney Barnett’s upcoming album, her first full-length after a couple of EPs. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Think will hit stores on 23 March, and all I’m hoping is that it hits Sydney on time for me to be able to order it and have it delivered to a friend’s place. But I’ve yet to map out the logistics for that. As for this song, it’s the usual lovely slightly stoner-y garage scowl-y rock that Courtney’s surprisingly perfected all these years. Loud, jangly, and I am excited. [NB]