In 2013 Courtney Barnett ambled into the already over-crowded hipster singer-songwriter party and turned heads with her second EP How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. Two things set her apart: a Australian twanged slacker mumble and a dead pan humour on par with Alex Turner, or Jonathan Richman. Songs like ‘Avant Garderner’ and ‘History Eraser’ dripped with mumblecore stream of consciousness genius and the Pitchfork-side of music press warmed to her. Now its slightly later and Barnett is back with her debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, but does she have more than the novelty of her accent to warrant being more than just another face in the crowd?
A mixture of distorted guitar chords, standard rhythms and touches of organ, the record is not winning any awards for innovation. It would not sound out of place during the 90s first wave of US slackerdom amongst Beck, Pavement and ‘She Don’t Use Jelly’-era Flaming Lips. Her compositions are mostly verse chorus verse affairs that don’t challenge the status quo of what a song is supposed to sound like, but in that simplicity it opens the listener up to Barnett’s lyrics. Her lyrics are her real selling point.
‘Elevator Operator’ explores the listlessness of early 20s modern day life, and how depression and boredom are interchangeable. Barnett is almost looking back on herself at that age and giving herself a good shake for being so melodramatic about dead-end jobs and lack of free time. Grungy single ‘Pedestrian at Best’ has already gained quite a following since its February release and it’s not hard to understand why, with its propulsive guitar chug and catchy matter-of-fact chorus about not wanting to be worshipped. The closing couplet of “I think you’re a joke/but I don’t find you very funny” will no doubt become a popular kiss-off retort.
Sometimes… does not only rely on uptempo rockers, the slower songs are just as essential. Single ‘Despreston’ is a ballad, not dealing with love explicitly but of living with someone and the process of relocating together. Wry observations about the former house resident being dead may imply that Barnett may think that her life is slipping away and fears inevitable death, perfectly characterised by an achingly drawn out slide-guitar solo mourning the loss of youth. Mortality is a theme that runs through the album, from the suicidal ‘Elevator Operator’ character, the song ‘Dead Fox’ and the seal that doesn’t want to live anymore from creeping death rattle ‘Kim’s Caravan’. Shade cannot exist without light; while 90’s sitcom Friends also deals with mid-twenties life it lacks shade, and so Barnett’s vision is more true to life.
So is Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit worth your time? Eleven tales of mid-twenties life, mixing kitchen sink dramas, existential musings with dilemmas about what’s in the fridge. A collection of anthemic songs for those that are not sure if they can be bothered. Mid-album highlight ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’ chorus consists solely of repeated “I wanna go out/but I wanna stay home”, addressing the dual nature of being social. While she may not especially want to attend the metaphorical hipster party from the opening paragraph there is no doubt that she would be a welcome guest, as long as she brings her guitar.