There are times I think Courtney Barnett is the best songwriter on the planet. But I can mention her name randomly to friends and my guess is I’d be hard pressed to find one that’s heard of the Melbourne singer. No time to lament that fact though, because Barnett announced today that she’s releasing a new album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, out March 24th (U.S.) via Mom + Pop Records. She’s also streaming a new single, “Pedestrian At Best”, with an accompanying video. This announcement follows on the heels of her unofficial 2013 release, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, an LP that combined six songs from 2013’s EP How To Carve A Carrot into A Rose with the six from I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris (2012). (For the record, her double EP is one of my favorite records I’ve heard over 9 years of doing this blog.)
Barnett has a brilliant mind, blurring her slacker outlook with an outrageous sense of humor and mixing them with her literary smarts. On “Pedestrian At Best” she sings these ripping verses about a love/hate relationship: “My internal monologue is saturated analogue / It’s scratched and drifting / I’ve become attached to the idea / It’s all a shifting dream bitter sweet philosophy / I’ve got no idea how / I even got here / I’m resentful / I’m having an existential time crisis/ What bliss, daylight savings won’t fix this mess / Underworked and oversexed / I must express my disinterest / The rats are back inside my head / What would Freud have said?”
Her oft-rambling style calls to mind Joseph Arthur’s “Travel As Equals” and the more whimsical Bob Dylan tracks like “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or “Clothes Line Saga” from off The Basement Tapes. But in sound, Barnett’s vocal delivery and context is part Liz Phair irony and Zooey Deschanel nonchalance. She’s a bit of a chameleon, changes shades as it suits her. The opening guitar riff to “Lance Jr” sounds like something right out of Nevermind, before it goes all wobbly surfer sway and Barnett introduces lyrics about masturbating to music. Barnett wrote this verse on her song “History Eraser”: “And in my dreams I wrote the best song that I’ve ever written / Can’t remember how it goes”. She also sings about the deceptively quotidian, without becoming too cutesy and off-putting. One of her songs can seem drifting and pointless on its veneer, but ultimate be about love or loneliness. Take the opening verses of the gorgeously bittersweet “Anonymous Friend”: “Let’s start an anonymous club / We can sit close in the dark / Come round to mine, we can swap clothes and drink wine all night.” That might be my favorite Barnett song, in part, because amid her cleverness and writing gifts there’s a sense of real fragility. Barnett is clearly a wordsmith of the first order, but she’s transcendent on the songs where emotion becomes just as powerful as the quirky, intelligent elements of her songcraft. Note: Follow Barnett on facebook and twitter. — David D. Robbins Jr.