Courtney Barnett makes me feel like I spend my life with my eyes clamped shut, oblivious to anything and everything going on around me, and who knows? Maybe I do? I’d like to think not though. At least with my eyes shut I’d still be able to hear her music, there aren’t too many pleasures greater. Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is the first album proper from Courtney Barnett, her previous release, the excellent A Sea of Split Peas, being an amalgamation of two previous EPs. If that release demonstrated she had an ear for a tune and a quite remarkable way with words then this one hammers it home with a meteoric impact.
The ability to transform the everyday mundane into a work of art is not new but doing it with this much style, intelligence and panache is a rare talent. She doesn’t see anything that we don’t see or know anything we don’t know (I assume) but she clearly has the ability to translate objects, moods, feelings, thoughts, actions and opinions into poignant, thought provoking and sonically pleasing words all thoughtfully crafted together. Her lyrics fit perfectly within each song’s beat and actually add to the rhythm. Internal rhymes pop up constantly like on ‘Debbie Downer’ where she sings “Don’t stop listening I’m not finished yet / I’m not fishing for your compliments”. It’s all delivered in her sing-speak style that sounds as natural as the grass growing. There’s no need to go fishing for compliments, they’ll arrive by the bucketload.
It’s not only about the wordsmithery though. Musically this is a wonderful record too. Often simplistic, the previously released ‘Depreston’ demonstrating how beautiful a song can be created from two guitar chords. Elsewhere there’s plenty room for loud guitars without ever sounding raucous. The majority of these songs are jaunty, spiky and upbeat sounding, the crunch of ‘Pedestrian at Best’, the indie rock n’ roll of ‘Aqua Profunda’ and ‘Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go To The Party’.
‘Small Poppies’ is the first comedown on the record, a sprawling seven minutes of Mazzy Star-esque guitars over an ever ascending / descending bass line that inhales and exhales over and over, perfectly reflected by the breathless, crackling, almost lackadaisical sounding vocal. Courtney sings “I’ll make mistakes until I get it right” repeatedly, sounding a little more desperate as the song progresses. “I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright”, the music reflecting this statement with a spiralling, anxious, guitar solo that builds suspense before swooping back to a calm closing minute of reflection.
‘Kim’s Caravan’ and ‘Boxing Day Blues’ close the album on a introspective, disconsolate tone. The former is a bleak, haunting, creeping song that musically builds a sense of catastrophe. Courtney sings of sitting on the beach, “there’s a paper on the ground / it makes my headache quite profound / as I read it out aloud / it said the Great Barrier Reef it ain’t so great anymore / it’s been raped beyond belief”. There’s a sense of guilt, disgust and hopelessness throughout, summarised by the line “We think that we’re invincible / Or that we are invisible / realistically we’re somewhere in-between”. Even Courtney feels lost for words as the song drifts to a close singing “All I wanna say is….” and leaving it there. The latter is an apologetic, regretful acoustic song. “I’m not what you’re looking for / my house has an open door / you need a lock and a key”. It closes the album with a nagging sense of heartbreak.
This is a complete album in the sense that there are no weak moments on it, nothing that might grow on you later, nothing that doesn’t fit snugly in place. It opens up like a sprawling landscape despite the relative simplicity of the songs. That simplicity comes from Courtney Barnett’s incredible songwriting skills about the everyday familiar. As a listener it draws you in so gently and easily that it’s impossible not to be completely engulfed by what you’re hearing. It makes me want to sit and think, it makes me feel like a better person than I often think I am, eyes closed or not. As someone who can write a cunning word or two once said, all of a sudden I’m having trouble breathing in.
Courtney Barnett’s debut album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometime I Just Sit is released on 23rd March via Mom+Pop Music – order it here