2014 was the year that Courtney Barnett, the unassuming Melbourne resident, went overground in a big way. With multiple international jaunts, appearances on radio and TV shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and many of the top international music festivals. All of that was on the back of two killer singles (‘Avant Gardener’, ‘History Eraser’) and the subsequent The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas. Now, finally, her debut album has arrived and in no uncertain terms it confirms her status as one the finest songwriters to emerge from the Antipodes in recent years.
Sometimes I Sit and Think… picks up from where her EP left off and that now familiar style of deadpan vocals intoning stream of conciousness, hyper-observational rhyming couplets. The history of popular song from nursery rhymes to Dylan and even the cadence and wordplay of hip hop inform her lyrical dexterity as she weaves humour and pathos into her songs.
Musically the album casts an ear back to sounds of the past, from The Pixies to Redd Kross, You Am I to Nirvana, Liz Phair to The Breeders. It all combines to form a sound that perfectly complements her songs. ‘Small Poppies’ shimmers in a wonderful woozy haze before ‘Depreston’ wrings more heartache and wistful melody from her pen than any song about flat hunting should have to right to do. ‘Aqua Profunda’ is a rhythmic, new wave and power pop tag team that reinforces how important great riffs and dynamics are in Barnett’s songs while ‘Kim’s Caravan’ switches between aqueous languid verses and an extended eviscerating hailstorm in the vein of Crazy Horse and The Drones.
Barnett often gets pegged as quirky yet her musical approach ticks most alt. rock and indie boxes. The joy and achievement of Sometimes I Sit and Think… is how she has married that with her inimitable knack for lyrics that will draw attention from even the most staunchest of listeners who would normally pay little attention to words. Like a more impressionistic pop-art take on the skilful writing of Mark Kozelek, Barnett is leading the way in literate songwriting without any hint of pretension.
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz