Album Review: Courtney Barnett, 'Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit'

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Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think
Courtney Barnett - 'Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit' (Album art / Milk!)

Not many artists these days have literally a global audience primed and ready to receive a debut album in the way Courtney Barnett has. Her first two EPs slowly built such a buzz in Australia, (she's based in Melbourne) that they were smushed together as her first physical release to the rest of the world. The song "Avant Gardener" caught our attention and her initial touring cemented the opinion that this was one of the most promising young artists to watch this year. Reviewers have constantly touted her wonderful word play and fresh take on every day life, that made the hype fantastical. The pressure on her for this first full length must have been extraordinary, I bet she had a lot of trouble breathing in, (a phrase borrowed from "Avant Gardener.")

The stakes may have been high, but all you have to do is glimpse the coverage from South by Southwest to know she's pulled it off with aplomb. Especially as she has obviously taken so much care to present it as a complete album — a real LP — perfectly paced and even self-referential as a piece. There's a line in song nine, the driving 'Debbie Downer' that says; "don't stop listening, I'm not finished yet," suggesting that she's actually referring to you the listener, having spent all eight previous songs with her, thinking, 'I got her'; but she's not done yet. Song ten takes an appropriate twist towards the abstract, with almost avant garde guitar stabs and an atmospheric feel that the rest of the record had not even alluded to. And in that penultimate song on this collection, she gives us her pièce de résistance of verbal gems, ending the song with; "All I want to say is..." leaving us hanging beautifully after smart lines, like; "Don't ask me what I really mean / I am just a reflection / Of what you want to see / So take what you want from me." Which leaves me almost unable to review the record, second guessing anything that I have previously thought about the lyrics I've been immersed in for so long.

Track 6, "Aqua Profundo," has a line about holding her breath for too long to try and impress someone while she's swimming laps, reminding me that she first caught my ear with the great line from the aforementioned "Avant Gardener" about having trouble breathing in! Just as you think she's creating a character of aloof cynicism, she does something self-deprecating that undermines the seriousness of the exercise. Like in her opening salvo "Elevator Operator", when the lead man poo-poos the suggestion that he's suicidal, preferring the phrase... "just idling insignificantly." It's a brilliant opening song, which has 'vegemite' said within 30 seconds, as if she knew the world be expecting her as an Aussie artist to say it at some point, (many have in the past)!

The pace is set and then the big hit #2 "Pedestrian At Best" ups the ante. Then there's a slowing of pace in the pre-center of the album before what some have called the center piece song "Depreston." It peaks late again with #8 "Nobody Really Cares..." With the quality admission; "I wanna go out / but I wanna stay home". Written down stark on the page, now I realize that these lyrics only really really work because of the bouncy, agile band, (The Courtney Barnetts) supporting the gist they convey. It's a 'rock' music that seems derived purely from the same soul that is speaking, without specific genre or band similarities. A hybrid racket that any old rock geezer can appreciate — at least this one does — but as Courtney Barnett suggests, I'm just reflecting what I really wanna see. So as a professed lyrics guy, I'm going to try to do a little more sitting and less thinking.

All of the pre-release buzz, (by the way, that's why we still need some kind of system of "release" still, it makes this media coverage coincide, see) she seems to have going, plus with all the accolades pouring in from Austin, Texas, it will be considered one of the best debuts of the year, a phrase that has so much weight, and promise of future pressure to perform, all over the world.

We'll be extremely lucky to catch her right in the midst of this meteoric rise when she plays Rock the Garden! (Barnett plays Saturday, June 20. Tickets available here.)

Audience ratings for this album


More than 55 percent of The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album gave it 4 stars out of 5. Poll closed at 12 noon on Sunday, March 29.

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  • Courtney Barnett performs at the SXSW Public Radio Day Stage In support of her forthcoming album <em>Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit</em>, singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett performed at The Current's Public Radio Day Stage at SXSW 2015 in Austin, Texas.
  • Courtney Barnett performs live in The Current studio Before making her Minnesota debut with a sold out show at the Varsity Theater, Aussie Courtney Barnett stopped by The Current studios to perform a few songs off <em>A Sea of Split Peas</em>. Between songs, Barnett and host Mark Wheat talked about her charming, quirky lyrics, what it was like touring with Billy Bragg and, of course, the World Cup.
  • Album Review: Courtney Barnett, 'A Sea of Split Peas' wry sense of humor runs through all 12 tracks on Barnett's recently reissued album, which is actually a compilation of her first two EPs slapped together to satiate her growing fanbase. Witty and evocative, Barnett sings over lo-fi, psych-influenced washes of guitar. But there is also something deceptively poppy about her music.
  • Rock the Garden: Thanks for rocking with us! Rock the Garden has come and gone, but after ten bands, thousands of people and countless smiles, we can say that the Garden has officially been rocked. Find all the coverage here, and tune in June 30 and July 1 to hear highlights from the concerts!

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