Hitting the ground running with her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit in 2015, Aussie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has been a much-loved musician by critics and fans alike for her distinctive, quirky, and off-centre brand of clean guitar-driven indie rock.
Her debut was a vibrant and poppy good time with some sombre moments sprinkled in; her follow-up Tell Me How You Really Feel was an angsty and darker exploration of that sound, accompanied by more biting lyrics; and her latest release Things Take Time, Take Time is a slow and bittersweet statement that doesn’t concern itself too greatly with the sounds established on what came before it.
The first five tracks on the album are it’s strongest and most unique. The first song, “Rae Street,” while not exactly worlds apart from what has been established on other Barnett releases, is different enough to where fans will note a change in presence and atmosphere. It serves as a great means of easing the listener into what this album is going for, and, from there, it just further commits to this more dower motif. The fourth song “Before You Gotta Go” was released as the album’s lead single, which was a very fitting choice, as it’s undeniably Courtney Barnett while also informing listeners that this album is a little different. The first half of the album is so good that if it had been released as a five-song EP, that alone would’ve been enough to secure it a perfect score.
In the second half of the album, for three consecutive songs – “Take It Day by Day,” “If I Don’t Hear from You Tonight,” and “Write a List of Things to Look Forward To” – the album settles into a more standard Barnett sound, which isn’t necessarily a negative. If said sound hasn’t grown stale yet (and to be clear, it hasn’t), then there’s no need to totally abandon it. It is kind of amazing that Barnett manages to jolt the listener by actually giving them what they probably went into the album expecting in the first place, after having spent the first half of the album subverting those expectations! Yet, even when going into this more familiar territory, the lyrics still carry the different intent of this release.
Lyrically, Barnett songs typically take on one of three writing styles: a personal declaration or one-sided conversation directed towards an unspecified figure; a personal anecdote or life story; or a stream of consciousness. These writing approaches are all present on Things Take Time…, however, they feel more prosaic here, which takes away that idiosyncratic Barnett “quirk,” but further supports the solemn feeling of the album.
Beyond the lyrics and aura, from a musical standpoint, the album is full of experimentation for Barnett, like the bass and drum machine-led “Turning Green,” which ends with a long, contorted guitar solo, or the penultimate song “Splendour,” which sees Barnett going outside her vocal range at times, with conventional-yet-chaotic instrumentation underneath that, in tandem with each other, feels like the song could fall apart and go to hell at any second, but manages to stick the landing. Things Take Time, Take Time deserves to be applauded for its versatility, not just because it’s Barnett going outside of her wheelhouse, but because she does this and still manages to make this songbook of wonderful tunes.
With Things Take Time, Take Time, Barnett manages to explore the unknown, while simultaneously maintaining her distinctive authorial voice. While this is a fantastic record, this reviewer would not recommend it as the entry point for Barnett’s music. At the time of this review, constating of now three studio albums (in addition to some EPs and a collaboration album with Kurt Vile, which, for our purposes here, are optional), Barnett’s discography is concise enough to where suggesting listening to it in its chronological order seems like a reasonable proposal, and that would indeed be the suggestion of this reviewer, because, while Things Take Time, Take Time can absolutely be enjoyed as a lone document devoid of the further context or history of Barnett’s overall musical milieu, it has a much greater impact if you experience it with the foundation of what came before it. For established fans of Courtney Barnett, you’re in for something special with this one.