I’m less fussy about lyrics than I feel I should be. I tend to spot really dreadful lines and take against them with a rabid hatred, but I don’t get as drawn in by the narratives as many music obsessives do. And yet, when it does all click, I tend to marvel at it. Having been impressed by Courtney Barnett’s ‘The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas’ in 2014, I was keen to hear her debut album proper, but I was surprised by just how much I loved it, even on my first play. As I lowered the stylus into the run in groove and stepped back, I wasn’t prepared for the instant boggle-eyed euphoria that the opening pair of ‘Elevator Operator’ and ‘Pedestrian At Best’ provoked.
The wry, seemingly cavalier storytelling that peppers Barnett’s work is a genuine delight. The first of the aforementioned pair demonstrates a real grasp of sound patterning, the line “I’m not suicidal just idling insignificantly” delivered to perfection. The latter sneers magnificently, bawling “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you, tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you.” This isn’t a limited trick, as the whole record highlights a knack for the unexpected rendered in the most listenable fashion. The use of assonance, sibilance, alliteration and numerous rhetorical devices in this extract from ‘Dead Fox’ hopefully highlights my point:
“Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables and
I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first
A little pesticide can’t hurt?
Never having too much money
I get the cheap stuff at the supermarket
But they’re all pumped up with shit
A friend told me that they stick nicotine in the apples”
I always have a little moment when I hear that. Somewhere between performance poetry and the raggedy energy of prime Britpop (in a good way), ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit’ is a truly different record. I remember discussing its curious echoes of that increasingly maligned music scene around release but what it captures, at least as much as some of the sound, is the untethered ambition of that time. Barnett gives the impression of doing whatever she likes. Indeed, how else would you end up releasing an album with its two most downbeat tracks paired together at its conclusion?
If you need a way in, try one of the aforementioned lyrical treats for an experience of the livelier end of proceedings. However, if you want to explore the slower side of Barnett’s sound, both ‘Small Poppies’ and ‘Depreston’ are absolute delights. The former is a seven-minuter with languid guitar and lumbering drums to soundtrack a mild existential crisis, while the latter is prime mid-paced jangle accompanying the story of a house-hunting mission. As the current occupant’s world is imbibed, the mood shifts from the gloriously playful early lines – “A garage for two cars to park in. Or a lot of room for storage if you’ve just got on.” I can see how the surface level lyrical irreverence might bug some, but this is really clever writing and the songs are, more often than not, truly special. If you’re in need of musical pick-me-up, you need go no further than this fabulous record.