When 26-year-old Aussie Courtney Barnett released her double EP A Sea Of Split Peas in 2013 she couldn’t have guessed that she needn’t be a barmaid for much longer. It was an intriguing chronicle of unusual lyrical subject matter culled from her first two EPs I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris and How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose, covering everything never thought of before, including gardening related allergic reactions and bedtime masturbation to the music of an ex beau. Her honest and acerbic wit rarely relented, and after taking her slacker pop live show across the world she was pegged as a bona-fide future star.
It seems as if the climate couldn’t be stronger for the shy Melbourne based songwriter to release her debut album Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, but as she lets you know pretty early on, she doesn’t think much of your praise. “Put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you / Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami honey” she screams on lead single Pedestrian At Best’ – a bigger joke hasn’t been played on professional tastemakers since The Smiths released Panic in 1986.
But then everything about Barnett’s mind is big and cutting. After the international release of ‘A Sea Of Split Peas’ she found herself in a creative funk that took a year to get out of. She’s mentioned that she was roused into writing again after seeing a dead seal on a beach. She makes explicit reference to the event in ‘Kim’s Caravan’ as the noxious and unnerving atmosphere slowly builds: “I see a dead seal on the beach; the old man says he’s already saved it three times this week, / Guess it just wants to die, I would wanna die too with people putting oil into my air.” As the song crescendos she shuns any interpretive move made by the listener: “Don’t ask me what I really mean / I am just a reflection / Of what you really want to see / So take what you want from me.” It’s alarmingly self-conscious and it challenges the listener’s immediate assumption of intimacy with her. The most melodic song of the batch is live favourite ‘Depreston’, a song about moving to a house in Preston and wanting to rebuild it as she starts to feel the lingering presence of its previous owner.
Barnett’s debut album is a resounding success chiefly because she’s one of the most lyrical and endearing recording artists around. Musically, she tries new ground in the down-tempo surf moments, like on ‘Kim’s Caravan’ or ‘Small Poppies’, and though she’s not reinventing the wheel, she’s mounting a pedestal that’s all her own. It’s one that can only be touched by the very best and brightest songwriters.
Live: Electric Ballroom – 9th & 10th April (Sold Out)