I know I’m a little late to the Courtney Barnett party, but I only recently realised that I have been unknowingly for her and against her at the same time for a little while. For the last 6 months or so, there have been articles about her in the free Melbourne street press every single week. And without reading those articles, I assumed I hated her. She just looked a little too hipster and little too “Melbourne”.
But at the same time, I was really digging her stuff whenever Triple R played it, but because Triple R is a community radio station, they’re not real big on things like back announcing. So I never knew it was her. I only joined the dots a few months ago when the awesome Darren Hanlon started tweeting about his tour with her in America. His endorsement was enough to look her up, and bugger me if it wasn’t those same songs from Triple R I’d been trying to track down for months. So now, six months after the cool kids and hipsters, I got stuck right into Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.
First off, a major part of the Courtney Barnett sound, and what made me take notice whenever her songs would pop up on Triple R is her approach to vocals. Her thick Australian accent, her casual enunciations, her literal lyrics telling literal stories and making literal observations. If you listen to opening track Elevator Operator and don’t like that sound, you should really stop listening then and there. Because that’s Barnett’s thing, and she’s sticking to it.
Second up is Pedestrian at Best. Four minutes of Barnett declaring why she makes such a terrible girlfriend, all over a rocking riff that never lets up for a second. It’s amazing just how well the juxtaposition of her almost spoken word vocals against balls out rock works. Since I finally figured out what this song was called and could find a copy of it, I must have listened to it four or five times a day ever since. And it still hits just as hard as that first listen.
A rambling bass line and sporadic guitar bring a swing to An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY) that is a cool new dimension to the Courtney Barnett sound that the few alt-radio friendly tracks I’ve heard before never really hinted at. The change ups keep coming with the Hawaiian influences in Small Poppies. This is an epic, lush song, building and building and building so gradually that I didn’t even notice how big it had become until it was well into a wailing guitar solo.
The opposite to that full, epicness is the stripped back beauty of Depreston. The story of leaving the inner city to save $23 a week on rent by living in the ‘burbs, things don’t get much more straight forward than this song. And it’s that directness that makes it so affecting. Proving that sometimes there’s no need to hide behind metaphors or symbolism, just tell your story and let it speak for itself.
As much as Pedestrian at Best was the main reason that I wanted to hear the rest of Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, I never expected so much awesome, straight up rock. But tracks like Aqua Profunda! and Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party are real ass kickers, and they represent a fairly solid proportion of this record.
But none of that is to say that the more restrained closing pair of Kim’s Caravan and Boxing Day Blues are any less impressive. This might sound like backhanded compliment, but it really is one of this record’s biggest strength’s and one of the things I love most about it. Courtney Barnett’s ability to wring so much range out of her technical lack of vocal range is amazingly impressive. And it’s the places she takes that, that makes Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit so cool. It’s so slackerish, yet so ambitious all at the same time.