Mar 24, 2015

CD Review: Courtney Barnett - "Sometime I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit"

It feels like every generation has its 20's angst record that uncovers depths not only of the psyche, but of the times. In the past, there have been figures like Alanis Morissette with "Jagged Little Pill," which gave the music enough hooks to make anthemic singles. There is something to it that is defiant and personable without ever losing their honesty. To a large extent, the record that imbibes this idealism for the 2010's has just come out with Courtney Barnett's latest album "Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit." The name itself works as a pun while focusing on the feeling of realizing that some moments are in fact inconsequential. With this in mind, Barnett finds joy in the mundane and manages to turn it into some disaffected woe that is both truthful and sometimes too clever. It may seem self-involved at points, but it fits the demographic nicely.
If one was to summarize the 20's, it would be tricky. For starters, the transition to adulthood mixed with need to figure out your own identity is a constant struggle that some have easier times with. With the relationship with technology and the theory that Generation X-ers aren't living up to their potential, there's a lot of misunderstanding that makes up life. While the record feels very accessible to American audiences, it should be noted that Barnett is from Australia and brings her debut with a fervor that will serve as the greatest contemporary songs about staying up late, buying an apartment and contemplating mowing your lawn. 
These are issues that face us all as we get into the age of responsibility. As the opening lyrics go, there's a subversion of sorts as she sings about a 20-year-old with hair worried about growing bald. He is the protagonist of the song who is later mistaken to be in the midst of jumping off of a building. Add in the whimsical hooks and it creates the perfect introduction. The chorus sings "You've got your whole life ahead of you/You're still in your youth." In some respects, that's the crossroads that follows. There's a revelation of beginning to feel vulnerable and mature while also realizing that you haven't really done anything memorable yet. While this would make for lousy fodder in the hands of less accomplished musicians, it plays off nicely for most of the album.
Barnett quickly takes focus as the album continues and soon it becomes a deeper understanding of her struggles. She also manages to add a 90's rock aggression to her songs such in "Pedestrian at Best" where she manages to make snarky remarks about people while playing lo-fi guitar riffs that are reminiscent of Hole. To an extent, she plays like a contemporary Courtney Love if she was more empathetic and less drug-focused. Still, the defiance that comes with the understanding isn't new territory. However, the lack of production values allows the focus to shift to her lyrics, and the results are rather infectious.
Over the course of the 11 songs, a lot happens that usually doesn't in pop songs. "Depreston" riffs on contemplating on buying an apartment. It starts off with serious consideration and as the song progresses, she slowly changes her mind. She puts into account the small things such as saving money by using homemade coffee. The story ends with her deciding against the apartment because she likes her status. It is an experience encapsulated in one song that chronicles a key part of adulthood with focus on all of the serious issues. Yes, there's humor. However, there's also substance there that allows each moment to matter. She may have a few witty jabs, but they're all reliant on the subject. This is her magic.
It would be too easy to go through the entire album and highlight why it is such a unique take on your late-20's when love, life and money are the three central focuses. It is a time when you're both insular and considerate of others. It's also a point where humor is used to deflect the pains of being let down. In fact, life is just funny in general and it shows thoroughly on this album. It may be too raw and sporadic at times, but the talent overwhelms most of the flaws. It will take you on journeys through the mind of s 20-something while rarely feeling pretentious about it. In fact, you might even relate. That is the magic of this album, whose title isn't so much a call of laziness, but a revelation that not everything needs to have some profoundly deep meaning. Some songs here don't necessarily, but the fact that they're personal and important enough for music suggests that we can't let go of them in order to be sane.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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