Record Reviews

Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit

On her debut full-length proper, Courtney Barnett delivers on early promise, and then some, writes ANDREW P STREET.

There’s a good reason why everyone seems so invested in the international success of Courtney Barnett: she’s the nation’s housemate. She’s the casually cool chick who was already living here when you moved in, who never leaves the kitchen in a mess or yells about how you left the back door unlocked, leaves interesting books in the loungeroom and can totally get you on the door for that gig tomorrow.

That unassuming pose could easily backfire on a less accomplished artist, but that I’m-just-doing-what-I-do-me attitude is all over her debut album. Hell, she’s packed an explicit defence against any possible Next Big Thing criticisms in the chorus of lead single [?Pedestrian At Best?](’v=o-nr1nNC3ds): ?Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you,? she declares, ?Tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you.? The fact that the song is effectively an awkward girl’s remake of the Easybeats? [?I’ll Make You Happy?](’v=nKpnCbHCe64) just makes it even more superb.

Every song has at least one gloriously quotable line: ?I come up here for perception and clarity / I like to imagine I’m playing SimCity? she smirks in the upbeat ?Elevator Operator?, while ?Dead Fox? opens with ?Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables / And I must admit that I was sceptical at first / A little pesticide can’t hurt.?

The masterpiece, though, is ?Depreston? – the second in what I sincerely hope will be an ongoing series of Songs Based On Puns Of Less-Desirable Australian Metropolitan Suburbs, following Jack Ladder’s mighty [?Hurtsville?](’v=CtVqIGfDNMk).

Given the Australian obsession with house prices it’s surprising the subject of buying one’s own property doesn’t come up more often in popular music. And it turns out it’s a fertile subject, as Barnett drawls the perfectly weighted ?And it’s going pretty cheap, you say / Well, it’s a deceased estate?.

Her ode to moving to affordable locations isn’t a snide backhander about the Great Australian Dream, though. There’s room to get downright sentimental as she considers the former owners: ?And then I see the handrails in the shower / Those canisters for coffee, tea and flour?.

?She’s buoyed by a solid rhythm section, but this is definitely Barnett’s show.?

The album saves its darkest moments for the end: after the slight-but-cute Farfisa of ?Debby Downer?, the six-minute-plus ?Kim’s Caravan? turns a beachside escape into a horror story of dead seals, environmental degradation and personal despair, complete with dive-bombing tremolo guitar.

And then the album ends on the subdued acoustic strum of ?Boxing Day Blues?, with Barnett singing as though physically and spiritually hungover, breathing a hopeless ?lover, I’ve got no idea? through the coda.

While the lyrics are the focus, Barnett has the same deceptively-effortless guitar playing that characterised Kurt Cobain’s lead work, focussing on single notes and effects rather than fiddly riffs, complemented by supplementary lead guitarist Dan Luscombe, (cf. the gloriously frenetic solo for ?Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party?). She’s buoyed by a solid rhythm section, but this is definitely Barnett’s show

What’s more, her uncomplicated songs are perfect for kids just getting their hands around their first guitars. Parents, take note – and the rest of us should expect an explosion of confessional-and-wordy jangly Australian singer/songwriters in six-to-eight years.

So yes, she deserves all the accolades. But the best summation of Barnett’s development, predictably, comes from Barnett herself, in ?Small Poppies?: ?I used to hate myself, now I think I’m alright.?

She makes a good point, that Barnett. She’s alright.


####Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is out Friday March 20 through Milk!/Remote Control. Read Adam Curley’s 2013 longform profile ‘The United States Of Courtney Barnett’ [here](/articles/4630222).