WVAU’s #6 Album of 2015: "Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit" by Courtney Barnett

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Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the penultimate song of Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, Courtney Barnett somewhat climactically claims, “I‰’m just a reflection of what you want to see, take what you want from me‰Û. While that sounds like something Bob Dylan would have said in the 1960‰’s about interpretations of his music, I have found after listening to Barnett‰’s debut full-length many times that what the lyrics conjure for me is too strong to separate from the music itself. So, unfortunately, I intend to do just that in this review:  take what I want from Barnett‰’s music.

The debut single from the album, “Pedestrian At Best‰Û, was a bit of a departure if you had ever listened to Barnett‰’s widely acclaimed debut The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. With a tinge of distortion, the song aggressively takes the listener with it on one of the introspective lyrical journeys on the album. The song borrows more from art-rock and punk than many of Barnett‰’s other tunes. The lyrics are almost entirely spoken while the guitar and bass rev up and down between two notes behind the vocals.

“Depreston‰” takes on Courtney Barnett’s signature laid-back style. This song about a house in the suburbs gently clicks along with the tap of the drummer‰’s brushes and a quivering lead guitar part. The tune breaks down while Barnett quietly chants “If you‰’ve got a spare half a million you can tear it down and start rebuilding‰Û. She chants the phrase again louder and louder until the band comes back in.

“An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)‰” is a little more tight with the agitated overdriven guitar and methodical smack of the snare. Other songs like “Aqua Profunda‰Û, “Dead Fox‰” and “Nobody Cares If You Don‰’t Go to the Party‰” take pages out of the “Pedestrian‰” book. They are loud, filled with catchy chorus vocal hooks, and show off Barnett‰’s excellent sense of crafting guitar riffs. Finally, there are two seven minute epics “Small Poppies‰” and “Kim‰’s Caravan‰” which are some of the most lyrically revealing songs on the album.

“Small Poppies‰” is a sleepy tune in three that starts out calm then builds up like boiling anger with a distorted lead guitar. “Kim‰’s Caravan‰” lumbers along with Courtney Barnett‰’s aimlessly mouthy lyrics and the rumbling of the bass. Once again, the song starts out slow and the drums gradually come in. The band gets louder and Barnett busts out a guitar solo that simmers down into Barnett‰’s final lyrics: “I can see Jesus and she‰’s smiling at me…. all I want to say is.‰Û

Barnett‰’s vocal style, which indiscernibly exists between speaking and singing, perfectly matches the lyrical content that resembles the stream of conscious ramblings of an apathetic teen. In “Dead Fox,” Barnett strikes up a light-hearted conversation with herself loosely about produce and food production. Over and over again, from Barnett‰’s discussion of the deterioration of the Great Barrier Reef in “Kim‰’s Caravan‰” to her debate about whether to cut the grass in “An Illustration of Loneliness,‰” an illustration of Barnett‰’s worldview is painted for us. Barnett sees the flaws with our world, but there seems to be a debate as to what can be done, if anything, to solve them. “Elevator Operator” seems to depict the motif of the entire album by painting a picture of a man who decides he‰’s sick of his job and wants to make pyramids out of cans instead. Additionally, Barnett gives us an illustration of a new figure in society, the millennial. The millennial sees many problems with the status quo but is unclear if they will act. “Depreston‰” serves as a vehement rejection of the definition of success taught to us by previous generations. Even with Barnett‰’s uninterested tone, she questions whether having the spare half million would really make living in Depreston any better. In “Pedestrian‰Û, Barnett herself is the millennial, coming off as cunning, seemingly nihilistic, and angry. Her demeanor throughout the album seems lackadaisical and indifferent, much like the broad, sweeping criticisms we see thrown at our generation by older folks.

They say millennials are lazy, coddled, indifferent, and entitled, but I think Barnett has a different idea of a millennial. She depicts one who is defiant, witty, but disillusioned with the world created by their predecessors. I‰’m not saying I think Courtney Barnett gives us solutions to our dire issues like racial injustice, climate change, xenophobia, transphobia or corporatization of higher education, but I do think she wants to feed us a different image of the young person. Although I don‰’t think she poses any solutions, I do agree with Barnett‰’s claim in “Kim‰’s Caravan‰” that “We all think that we are nobody, but everybody is somebody else‰’s somebody.”