The first few minutes of Courtney Barnett were pretty hard. I had to decide whether it was the greatest thing ever or if I instantaneously wanted to go to bed. I was struggling because both was very true and both was caused by the music. No offence - I hope you will understand if you read on.
Anyway, I decided to go with “greatest thing ever” - which is always a good start when finding something new: Being euphoric about it.
What I want to talk about are the releases of Melbourne girl Courtney Barnett on Bandcamp. She currently has 2 EPs (1, 2) and a compilation, that consists of all the songs of the two EPs. The names alone leave me puzzled, but quite interested:
- EP1 I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris
- EP2 How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose
- The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas
It makes me wonder, if there is something behind it and yet I can not figure it out. This thread of not quite getting it runs through all the songs of both EPs and most of the titles. I like it a lot. Have a look at the album’s covers yourself. They are great.
Anyway … “Being puzzled” and “not quite getting it” are not very good reasons to like music - so this is why:
What “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf is for cruising your Harley along the Route 66 and feeling like a fallen young god, most of the songs from “A Sea Of Split Peas” are for anticlimactically sitting in your garden, drinking milk and watching the sun go down on a mild summer evening in the 80s, being concerned with just a very few things. We can not do that anymore - at least not in the 80s - but it is nice to know what it would have felt like.
I had to have a proper listen to the whole album and discovered a Courtney Barnett, that with the emotional dynamics of a dead rock sings about many things that could have happened to anyone or situations that anyone of us could be in. The whole album consists of 12 slightly strange stories - and who’s life doesn’t have plenty of those? She sings of former roommates, ex-boyfriends, people that are annoying, having an anaphylactic shock while gardening, things to do while listening to other people’s songs .. all with a slight unconcern - in a rhythm that reminds me of a marathon runner, who stops to smell the flowers and then starts making snow angels in the nearest sandbox. This rhythm seemingly does not care at all about where it is going and why. It just does go there.
The most distinctive bit of the overall style of this great album however is the combination of her voice and the stubborn and very present bass lines. There is a lot of guitar playing going on in this album, and many kinds of it.
The whole thing somehow seems groovy but also a little melancholic. I reckon this is mostly because of the way she sings. It is not really strong melodic singing, it is not talking. It is very carefully not bothering at all to put strong emotions into it. This is what I think makes this album great. The music, the seemingly total lack of being bothered and the catchy melodies are just there. And they stick. I found myself singing “Don’t apply compression gently” in the shower yesterday without even noticing. It happened again in the car a few times. It is ingenious.
I can not decide, which songs to mention, so I just do not say anything at all about the songs, except that you have to listen to them all. I like some of them more than others and it is only fair to at least tell you which ones:
They are mostly from the first half of the album (which contains all the songs of the second EP). The first EP has a slightly different style. I like the secong EP more, but not because the earlier songs are not as good. It probably is just me being picky.
A little bit of lyrics talk: They are quite deep, even though they sometimes seem simple and random at first. It does not always sense to me as a whole, but then I am not a native speaker and might miss a whole bunch of stuff. As I already mentioned, most of the lyrics tell stories about everyday problems and events. But none of it is heartbroken whining about an ex-lover or cheesy “I miss you so much” stuff. It is describing a mind, that is above all that - settled and satisfied with itself - but has the urge to explain what is on it and that it (the mind) is not perfect (which is normal by the way). It is great - not only because statements like these rarely make it into a good song, which we have 12 of on this album. It also is great because it does feel like it could be me or you telling that story. And all that is sung by this great natural and honest voice - totally credible and trustworthy.
I have no better words to describe it and will leave the rest to you. I sure hope, that there will be more music from Courtney Barnett as soon as she can be bothered. She seems to have gotten pretty famous in some regions and I hope that if we hear of her again, it will be very special and “the best thing ever”. Good luck to her - it is good having her out there making that great kind of music.
At last, the stats: All three releases are available on Bandcamp as a digital release, but at the time of writing there are no physical copies left of the album and the first EP via Bandcamp. You might get a vinyl release of the album from the UK at roughtrade or the CD from amazon.co.uk.
You can still order the second EP as CD via Bandcamp.
Thank you for reading, thank you for listening, stay amused.