Album Review: Courtney Barnett, ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’
When Courtney Barnett combined her first two EPs on 2013’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, she was continually assigned the “slacker” label for her ultra-dry sense of humor and vocal delivery set to often furious, squealing guitars. On her proper debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, you can almost hear the eye rolls and half-smirks in the Australian singer’s deadpan observations, but even passive listeners will recognize there is something much deeper brewing beneath the surface of Barnett’s musings.
Barnett’s songwriting is rife with understatements, so it’s kind of fitting she summed up her new LP with one just as vast: “My songs follow me as a normal human with normal emotions.”
In an attempt to convey that so-called normality, Barnett serves up songs recounting the most monotonous and mundane details of ordinary life as a means of offering listeners something universal. But if Barnett sounds apathetic on Sometimes I Sit and Think, it’s only an impressively crafted façade. In reality, she's anything but.
Her wry commentary embodies an in-betweenness that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been in their mid-20s (She certainly summarizes the collective moral criss of a generation when she sings, “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home,” on “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party”). The almost painstakingly specific details of Barnett’s deceptively superficial narratives -- from the amenities of a potential home in “Depreston” to the disputed color of a hotel ceiling in “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” -- are emblematic of a life in transit.
Between each observation, Barnett packs in moments of sincere emotion, which is perhaps best captured in the album's lead track, “Elevator Operator.” As guitars chug along with Barnett’s tale of nightmarish office life, the song culminates when her bored drawl announces, “I’m not suicidal / Just idling insignificantly.”
All of the sudden, moments like that – a misunderstanding between co-workers, the decision to buy organic vegetables upon her partner’s insistence in “Dead Fox” or the arduous and borderline absurd reality of house hunting in “Depreston” – become representative of something much greater, whether it's relationships, commitment or coming of age in general.
While a wink might be lurking behind each jam-packed thought, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit proves Barnett is not simply a slacker or sardonic garage rocker -- far from it. This is an artist with a lot to say, and we're excited to hear what's next.