What makes Aussie indie rocker Courtney Barnett so intriguing is her innate and uncanny ability to capture the most normal situations, the minutiae of an event, and turn it into a song. Much of Barnett’s songwriting prowess lies in her style of describing the scenes of her songs in an almost completely observant and matter-of-fact manner. Barnett’s storytelling gives her the power to present the most bland of situations and make them entertaining, and her talent for doing so is integral to what makes “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” such a promising debut album.
The album, at its finest, is an ode to the normal person’s life, and the uneventful lifestyle of the everyday average Joe. Rather than seek out and describe rare situations that listeners cannot relate to, Barnett finds beauty in the simple lifestyle and draws connections with listeners through her vivid story telling that helps beautify the mundane. For example, “Aqua Profunda!” describes Barnett’s glimpse of a man swimming in the pool lane next her…nothing more, nothing less. Barnett sings: “I saw you in the lane next to me/You were doing freestyle, then you switched it around/To a little bit of backstroke/I couldn’t see underneath/Your swimming cap, but it appeared that you had/Dark colored hair, maybe it was blonde for all I know/I had goggles on/ They were getting foggy/I much prefer swimming to jogging.”
The minimalist approach to her topic selection allows Barnett to flourish in her lyrics without having to force her listeners to over-think, and this methodology is prevalent throughout the project. Songs like album standout “Depreston” show Barnett at her best, intelligent but reticent, an artist that would rather go a long way with little to prove her artistry than to put too much into a project and get lost. In the song, Barnett sets the scene to someone looking for a new home, and yet with the mundane situation at hand, manages to create her most simple yet introspective song on the album. “We drive to a house in Preston, we see police arrestin’/A man with his hand in a bag/How’s that for first impressions? /This place seems depressing/It’s a Californian bungalow in a cul-de-sac/It’s got a lovely garden, a garage for two cars to park in/Or a lot of room for storage if you’ve just got one/And it’s going pretty cheap you say, well it’s a deceased estate/Aren’t the pressed metal ceilings great?”
Punk elements and fantastic but languid guitar work permeate each track, and make Barnett’s voice even more powerful. It’s as if Barnett is doing the most work, but you’d never know because of her cool veneer. “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” is awkward and funny, but it uses these traits to its advantage because of its simplicity and the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously within its “straight to the point” 43 minute run time. Courtney Barnett succeeds with her debut album because she provides a breath of fresh air to the indie rock genre by putting a unique spin on the storytelling of her musical peers. When it comes to songwriting, Barnett teaches us a little can go a long way, and as a result has crafted a peculiar and enjoyable album.
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