Initially capturing the attentions of many thanks to her 2013 double EP The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett is back with her debut LP Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, making a name for herself in the musically bourgeoning city of Melbourne all the while proving her worth as arguably one of the best lyricists in indie rock today. The album, building on the foundations set by her previous EP’s, delves deeply into themes of anxiety and the transition into celebrity, making for some of Barnett’s most intimate and personal tracks to date which sound honest rather than self-important. This honesty is beautifully paired up with Barnett’s witty wordplay (“Reminds me of a book I skim-read in a surgery all about palmistry…” particularly stands out) and laid-back, nonchalant delivery. The final product plays out like a dead-pan 90’s coming of age film, taking place in a small Australian town, soundtracked by Pavement, where nothing seems to really happen but you end up learning more about the character than you ever thought imaginable.
The album’s opener “Elevator Operator” sets the lyrical tone wonderfully for this record filled with up’s and down’s. It tells the story of a bumbling young adult Oliver Paul, whose day is shown going from bad to worse through a series of blunders and mishaps which culminate in his threatening to jump off of the roof of the building where he works only to get confronted by a woman he despises. He then admits that he in fact isn’t suicidal and simply comes to the roof to channel his anxieties and his feeling of insignificance. Although the build up to this conclusion is spectacular, Barnett decides to spare her listeners of any added drama or theatrics and to cut the story somewhat short, resculpting her character as being innocent and painfully average rather than deranged and suicidal. This feeling of mundaneness and shortcomings is ever present through the album and when told by Barnett, becomes eerily familiar and strangely comforting to the listener.
Album standout “Depreston” is another track which clearly demonstrates Barnett’s natural knack for storytelling. It tells the story of a young couple who go house hunting in a suburb of Melbourne, only to fall upon the house of a widow. This track, although extremely simple and straightforward, proves to be one of the most poignant and touching songs on the album simply due to its genuinity and straightforwardness. Barnett does what so many artists in today’s indie rock circle seem to fail to do: she keeps her music simple without watering it down. And this is where part of Barnett’s charm comes from; in her ability to make something beautiful out of nearly nothing at all.
But this lyrical mastery should not take away from the music tying everything together. Barnett’s band, a simple 3 piece setup featuring a drum, a bass and Barnett herself on guitar, does what any good band should do and gives Barnett’s tunes an extra air of emotional depth (or emotional simplicity in her case) while never really overtaking the lyrics. Churning out earworm after earworm of a kind of guitar heavy blend of Liz Phair-esque 90’s indie-rock, 60’s rock, The Modern Lovers, and a little bit of Dylan inspired folk all tied together with the clumsy abandon of a young Stephen Malkmus, the band delivers us a handful of quality tracks which sound brand new yet quite familiar all the while demonstrating their musical diversity through tracks such as the bouncy bassled love song “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New-York)”, the speedy, rather punk influenced “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” and the hushed closer “Boxing Day Blues”.
However, the record does still have some low points, most notably penultimate track “Kim’s Caravan” the brooding epic which simply seems far too outstretched and ambitious for its own good, and “Dead Fox”, which seems bland and lacking the unexplainable piece which makes Barnett’s songs so appealing. But the highs outweigh the lows and the only thing you’ll be left remembering from this are Barnett’s simple yet intricate anecdotes and the overall laid-back atmosphere which seems to englobe this stellar debut effort.