An empty chair stands alone on a tiled floor on the cover of Courtney Barnett’s debut LP Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, boxed in and isolated by blank canvas. It’s an invitation to stride in, sit down and occupy Barnett’s head space for the album’s 44 minute run time – to tackle its musings on age, loneliness and the plain old mundane.
Once there, Barnett does not attempt to cajole us by sweetening up her cynical social commentary and self-depreciative comedy through beautiful, lulling melodies. Her stories are instead allowed to float along in her trademark Aussie drawl atop the heavy grunge instrumentation that forms the backdrop to most of the album. What separates Courtney from other singer/songwriters of today is not only her ability to proffer poetic and instantly relatable insights on the everyday, but the quality of the band that supports her – made up of bassist Bones and Dave Mudie on drums. They elevate the observational reflections of their front woman into a slacker-rock outfit more urgent, more dynamic and far more infectious; most evident on “Pedestrian at Best,” the lead single off …Sometimes I Just Sit.
Such energetic and ramshackle instrumentation is fitting for an artist who so quickly navigates between wide-ranging lyrical themes. On “Aqua Profunda!,” Barnett compares her botched attempts to impress a fellow swimmer at a public pool to the Australian housing market, giving us one of the stand out couplets on the album in the process – “my lack of athleticism, sunk like a stone / like a first owner’s home loan”. She is all too aware of the simple rhyme’s power to produce a wry smile, inviting the listener to laugh both with and at her.
Yet her self-aware, ironic standpoint often hints at a deeper sense of insecurity – something she makes no attempt at hiding on …Sometimes I Just Sit. At the age of 27, she depicts her early onset of a mid-life crisis on “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” when she sings the track’s hook “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home”. Barnett’s indecision at such a turbulent point in her life is a theme that permeates the tracks throughout the album, as she struggles to come to terms with herself in the midst of an “existential time crisis” (“Pedestrian at Best”).But for all her anxiety and self-doubt, she is resilient, asserting on “Small Poppies” “I don’t know quite who I am, oh but man I am trying / I make mistakes until I get it right”.
Exhausted and dazed, we leave Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit with Courtney begging “don’t ask what I really mean….take what you want from me” on penultimate track “Kim’s Caravan” – and to stand up and walk away from the album is to feel that bit more inspired, alert and grateful having occupied the mind of such a rare talent. Album highlight “Depreston” sees her ask “How’s that for first impressions?” An answer isn’t necessary.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is out now on Mom + Pop Records.
Top Tracks: “Small Poppies”, “Pedestrian At Best”and “Aqua Profunda!”
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