By Sophie Israelsohn, Contributing Writer
Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett released her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, as a satisfyingly lethargic and at times almost satirical narrative, exploring style as she does her thoughts.
Barnett’s lyrics are rather simple, but the setting and the storytelling is undeniably thoughtful. The mood of each track aids in the respectful relay of Barnett’s intentions. Some of the tracks flow practically seamlessly into the next with little disruption. Other times there are more clear points of change — an exploration of another style, another attitude within the rock genre: grungy in “Pedestrian at Best,” soulful and bluesy in “Small Poppies,” fatigued and Doors-esque in “Debbie Downer” and “Kim’s Caravan.”
In the first song, Barnett lays a foundation for contemplation as she considers, “I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly / I come up here for perception and clarity,” on a rooftop in “Elevator Operator.” The first single, “Pedestrian at Best,” is a constant dialogue of thoughts, a roll-call of decisions and consequences, “Erroneous, harmonious / I’m hardly sanctimonious / dirty clothes, I suppose we all outgrow ourselves.” Barnett, in a ball of modest-deprecation admits, “Put me on a pedestal / and I’ll only disappoint,” feeding her ode to low expectations.
Barnett’s lyricism arguably bears similarities to early freestyle rap; each line flows perfectly into the next rather than posing clear stanzas or moments of clear subject change. In this sense, her narration is perhaps not classic in the conventional lyric-writing sense, but pleasantly ordinary and within listeners’ reach.
Her musical settings are just as clear as her lyrical intentions. Barnett’s chord progressions, however plain-Jane and classic, are not disappointing. They fit the mood of each story like a glove. Sad yet inherently relatable, “Small Poppies” explores the perennial thought, “I don’t know quite who I am/ oh but man I am trying,” atop bluesy guitar riffs.
In coastal-sounding “Dead Fox,” Barnett tells of real experiences, recalling, “Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables / And I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first,” like a diary entry, remembering the conversations as clearly as the unsettling “possum Jackson Pollock is painted in the tar.”
And in “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” there is even a hint of a Sleater-Kinney vibe emphasizing the empathetic, “I wanna go out / but I wanna stay home.” When inclined, Barnett uses rather easy melodies in combination with the simplicity of the lyrics, leaving the complexities to the guitar and the harmonic accompaniment.
Some may, at first listen, consider the obviousness and clarity in Barnett’s voice as abrasive and lacking of poeticism. On the contrary, Barnett succeeds in honest storytelling as a result of her refreshingly simple observations.