Most people would rather forget the choices they made in high school. Courtney Barnett is not one of those people.
Since deciding to become a songwriter sometime during her tender teenage years, the Melbourne-based Barnett kept busy by releasing three critically acclaimed EPs, running her own label, and playing slide guitar in psych-country band Immigrant Union. And she did all this prior to releasing her debut album, mind you.
With so much experience already, Barnett is something of an anomaly among emerging artists. Unsurprisingly, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is an anomaly among debut albums. Fresh, potent and fully realized, the album has no time for rookie mistakes. In the space of eleven tracks, Barnett and her guitar create an instantly indispensable rock record and an absolute marvel of a debut.
The excellence shows up early. Crunchy chords and a fascinating narrative in opening track “Elevator Operator” suck you in at warp speed. Barnett keeps you near as she dwells in and on the spaces where the lines dividing opposites blur. Her confidence mingles with her doubt; her desire to go out is forever pitted against her desire to stay home. She plunges into the specifics of our collective experiences, resulting in deeply personal songs capable of resonating with just about everybody.
Yet instead of ruminating on the capital E experiences (birth, love, loss, etc.), Barnett’s lyrics pluck mundane moments from your average day: lattes, road kill, temporary insomnia, eating inorganic without feeling that guilty about it. We’ve all been there, Barnett included.
We have not, however, witnessed our shared unremarkable realities take on such intriguing new shapes. She rambles her way through our daily grind with impressive speed and a deadpan wit. Every revelation, tirade, boast, clever quip and self-effacing confession sounds accidental, tumbling out of her devoid of frills. The approach works wonders exclusive to her style. Think of it this way: the lyric, “Underworked and oversexed, I must express my disinterest / The rats are back inside my head, what would Freud have said?” would sound horrendous if sung by Adele.
Far from accidental, Barnett’s guitar packs one hell of a punch. Bluesy chords swell in “Small Poppies,” sharpened by a touch of reverb. Whether opting for a more acoustic strum (“Depreston”) or hammering out attention-grabbing riffs (“Aqua Profunda!”), her guitar spins and leaps at center stage while anchoring the track. Once again, she conjures harmony from dichotomy.
Thanks to her critical darling status over the previous two years, many of us were already well aware of Courtney Barnett’s rare talent. But this time our awareness can’t save us from being stunned by the tremendous humor, manic intelligence and exceptional songwriting of Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. But hey, who said we wanted to be saved?