It’s been fascinating watching Courtney Barnett’s journey over the past few years, in the way that it’s grown in such an organic way that I don’t think I’ve seen in my time. Originally releasing two EPs in 2012 and early 2013 on her own Milk! Records label in Australia, those two EPs were later combined into what us non-Australian plebs know as The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas, released first in the UK in late 2013 and then America last year. It was that UK release where I first listened to her music and immediately enjoyed the warm, chilled out sound of those two EPs. So it was nice to see the UK start to warm to her (witnessed in person at a very crammed Liverpool Sound City gig) and then all over again in the States, all while feverishly anticipating her debut album proper.
Well was it worth the wait? NO!.. just kidding, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is a worthy follow up and defining debut album. I’m a big fan, and you ingest so much media on an artist you like that over the two years or so between The Double EP and this you end up building up all these expectations of what you think it will sound like. The thing is, SISATASIJS (Don’t worry, I just wanted to use that crazy acronym once) completely subverts those expectations in the best way possible. The album is what you know as Courtney Barnett, only now it’s tighter, more musically varied and confident. Take opening track Elevator Operator for example. Barnett’s great witticisms are all there in her lyrics, structurally it’s similar to The Double EP but this is much more of a foostomper of an album. For the most part, the best metaphor I can think of is that whereas The Double EP was the lazy Summer late afternoon, this is the active day of hanging out with friends, having fun and kicking ass.
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A lot of it seems to come from Barnett’s big boost in confidence. She’s always come off as a genuine and humble artist and she’s done the best thing she could have done with all the exposure she’s had recently, taking all of that and exuding it on record. It’s not just that though, it’s nearly two years of touring with the same band (Bones, Dave and occasionally Dan). It’s evident throughout the record just how much kinsmanship they have as musicians and friends, and no doubt having the CB3/4 bring a cleaner and heavier edge to some of the EP tracks during the live show has had an influence on this album. In fact, some of the album’s songs like Pedestrian At Best, Depreston and Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party were being played sparingly live across last year and in retrospect they were a pretty big hint at the direction this album was heading in. A much more loud quiet loud album than the drifting nature of the Double EP.
Each song goes from strength to strength and if you enjoyed the diary-like lyrics of The Double EP then there’s much more of that introspective feeling here, especially on the songs like Debbie Downer and Small Poppies, not to mention all the wit we’ve come to love, with subjects covered on everything from being away from a partner to playing Sim City. It has a nice pace to it as well coming in at 38 minutes, with a natural halfway point with Depreston, Barnett’s story of modern day house hunting (which is way less mundane that I just made it sound). At this time The Double EP has a little edge just on having listened to that a lot longer but that comparison will no doubt dwindle across the year the more I listen to SISATASIJS (sorry!) and if there’s one thing already that the album has over the EPs is a big mainstream crossover track. Avant Gardener may have had 1 million Youtube Views but it’s a darling of the alternative. On the other hand, lead single Pedestrian At Best is not only my favorite song on the album, but if MTV was still a legitimate music source, this would be the music video on MTV2 that would still be being played once a week with Cannonball, Sabotage and the like 10 years or more after its release.
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So there you are enjoying this album and then a song like Kim’s Caravan comes around and floors you again. Barnett is immensely talented and continues to surprise the more music we hear, but this is her Riders On The Storm, that big epic song that just takes her music onto another level again. The album’s great, but it just comes out of nowhere and all you can do is sit back listening and say to yourself ‘woah’. It’s a fine penultimate track, the best of an already great catalogue of these 7 minute whoppers and continues to cement her as one of music’s finest young songwriters. I’m always extremely wary of musicians overindulging in song length, but there’s no worries here as far as Courtney Barnett’s concerned.
I thought this would be the album I’d been waiting two years for and it wasn’t. It was the album I didn’t realise I’d been waiting that long for. Rather than resting on her laurels with a style of music everyone already enjoyed, Courtney Barnett takes all of the experiences she’s had in the past few years and molds it into something amazing, taking that great sound she already had and giving it a sheen of confidence, not being afraid to dip between heavier music and themes and lighter equivalents and a lot of the time, just being bad ass. It compliments her previous work perfectly and the best part is by the time you finish listening you know this has the potential to be more than just a one off. She’s already proved that with this debut album. This isn’t pedestrian at best, this is hopefully the start of a long and successful run of albums and you miss it at your own peril.