The reputation of acerbic Australian singer/guitarist Courtney Barnett has steadily grown since the release of her Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas in 2003. The trend appears poised to continue, as the release of her debut album proper Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is comprised of all the traits that make Barnett such a unique artist.
Barnett’s lyrics are particularly compelling, providing commentary on a variety of normally unsung themes and individuals. The opening track, “Elevator Operator,” spins the narrative of a young man employed as an elevator operator so depressed by how his childhood dream turned out that he threatens to jump from the building he works in. Then there are the little touches Barnett adds that make the songs extra special, like the image of a woman entering the lift with “hair pulled so tight you could see her skeleton.”
The album’s first single, “Pedestrian at Best,” features Barnett warning listeners of the perils of success (“put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you”) as her band thrashes behind her in a way that would do The Pixies proud.
More of Barnett’s lyrical genius is found in “Aqua Profunda!” in which Barnett unfavorably compares her swimming style to the person in the lane next to her, while “Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” features Barnett unable to slumber while in a hotel room. This sense of alienation continues in “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” where Barnett deals with the age-old dilemma of FOMO.
All the above tracks are upbeat and sometimes punk-ish, but the album’s slower tracks are among the best. The haunting “Depreston” is the tale of house-hunting in Australia and confronting the humanity and artifacts of those who used to live in the house: “photo of a young man in a van in Vietnam.” The slow blues of “Small Poppies” is another standout track, lyrically detailing a difficult relationship and featuring some great guitar from Dan Luscombe. The album’s final track “Boxing Day Blues” is a bit of a departure, an acoustic lament that seems to be a plea to an unnamed lover to repair a relationship gone wrong.
This album could well be one of the best of the year, showcasing an artist whose lyrical all-seeing eye is reminiscent of Morrissey and Lou Reed – able to tell, with utmost empathy and respect, the stories of those in the most unfortunate situations. Add that to her compelling lyrics the very catchy tunes that stick in your head long after the record has finished playing, and you may find that 2015 is the year of Courtney Barnett.