Saturday, February 13, 2016

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015)

I've liked Courtney Barnett's music since the first time I heard it—she's one of those acts that wins you right over. You're not even sure what it's about but you're already sold. Even so, I'm not always convinced I like it for the right reasons. People seem to talk a lot about her lyrics and words, which, indeed, upon close examination, are thoughtfully weird, neurotic in a kind of calculated way, a pastiche of vivid and colorful fragments, and seemingly piped out of regions of the unconscious. They occupy their place well in a song, giving it a natural focus. She sounds smart because she sounds literate, and she sounds literate because she uses unusual and surprising words, making up strange tales out of tumbles of words. She loves words, perhaps her most obvious connection to Bob Dylan—she used 10 of them for the title of her album, when most are happy with a handful or fewer. But a point made by David Byrne (of all people) might apply here: "At times words can be a dangerous addition to music—they can pin it down. Words imply that the music is about what the words say, literally, and nothing more." I make the point because what I like more than anything about this album is that Courtney Barnett is essentially just head of a good old rock band, 2 guitars bass drums, raving up their hooks and riffs into fine soaring high moments. The best thing about this album is that you never want to stop listening to it, as one after another sharp stomping wry rock workout after another rolls on by. It's addictive, it's one of those little obsessive pop albums, that only seems to get better and better heard every day. In fact, the band is credited as a unit with writing the music, and that's how these songs sound: worked out as a band. I have the impression Courtney Barnett is a lyricist in the mode of Chris Difford, writing them by herself late at night and figuratively slipping them under the door for her band to work out the musical setting with her later. The result often sounds just a little derivative—I hear obvious strains of Elastica, Pretenders, Velvet Underground, T. Rex, some flashes of shoegaze, and many other elements in a rich and viscous stew. One guitar solo plays almost like an homage to Robert Quine. But those are all the right sources, for me, and it's also fresh enough to sound like something I've never heard before, and difficult to describe in that way that the best music is when it's still new. It just sounds good. It's going to influence a lot of people.

1 comment:

  1. Dominant critical favorite last year with To Pimp a Butterfly. "Nobody Really Cares if you Don't Go To the Party" is the only hook on the record that's had any staying power w/ me, though. She does a deadpan sneer as well as anybody I can think of right now but I hear more Mark E. Smith than Chris Difford in the songwriting. And I wish I liked her music a little more than I do. Makes me feel a little more alienated and old that I don't.