Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett has garnered much praise from critics and listeners since she first burst into the music scene back in 2012 (check out her recent performance on Ellen, who gushed about the singer, saying “I love her so much”). The singer-songwriter’s style is wordy, as she explores common situations through humor and cynicism. A signature Barnett tune usually features her deadpan vocal delivery of clever run-on lyrics detailing ordinary events, and her stellar lo-fi inspired guitar playing.
With successful tracks such as Avant Gardener and History Eraser, The Double EP: A Side of Split Peas, released late in 2013, established her as an artist to keep an eye on. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is her first full-length album. It follows a similar style to that of her previous EP. The first half feels more energetic compared to more morose songs found on the second one. Her guitar playing is loose and expressive, embracing improvisation and opening the door for Barnett’s conversational singing style.
First track, Elevator Operator is upbeat with a steady rhythm. Pedestrian at Best, the first single out the bunch, is the most abrasive track on the album. “I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny”, says the chorus. It is inevitable to compare Pedestrian with some of Liz Phair’s work from the early 90’s. The charming An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York) has Barnett sounding like the lovechild of Stephen Malkmus and a 60’s Bob Dylan. The song holds a strong groove, and with its lovely bridge of “wondering what you’re doing, what you’re listening to, which quarter of the moon you’re viewing from your bedroom,” it is one of the album’s highlights. “I used to hate myself, but now I think I’m all right,” sings Barnett on Small Poppies, the longest track on the record. Poppies follows a swingy feel and features an eclectic guitar solo.
Beautifully melancholy, Depreston, paints the picture of a couple going to Preston, a suburb of Melbourne, to find an old house that could instead be knocked down and rebuilt. Barnett’s voice at her most delicate, sounds rather twee, like that of the lovely Tracyanne Campbell from Camera Obscura. A few other tracks where Barnett’s influences shine through are Dead Fox, which sounds like The Lemonheads and Dinosaur, Jr., as well as Debbie Downer, with an intro ringing similar to Light My Fire and a chord progression similar to Blur’s There’s No Other Way. The final two songs are slower and gloomier, wrapping up these tales by taking a breath. Kim’s Caravan feels like one long lethargic walk down the desert. It includes the clever lyric of “we all think that we are nobody, but everybody is somebody else’s somebody”. Apologetic closer Boxing Day Blues, is rather quiet, with Barnett sleepily repeating the chorus toward the end, falling into a dream.
Courtney Barnett sees the light behind trivialities that would go unnoticed by anyone else. She would likely embrace the rust ‘round an old inexpensive ring. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit feels like a week of week living inside her head, analyzing all the world has to offer. There is the sweet, the wistful, and the uneasy. Under Barnett’s filter, they are all pleasant.