Let me start off by saying that if this title is coming off a bit Buzzfeedy, that's because one, it is, and two, I have been struggling with an unjust and malicious case of writer's block. I have been trying to formulate the right words for this review for a week, but have ended scrapping everything that I have started. I am not a perfectionist (obviously, if you have read my other content)... it is just that the other reviews were just horrid. I thought about it, and the point of a review is to tell you why something is good or not, so I just cut the crap and made a list of reasons I think Courtney Barnett has made a great album.
Reason 1: The album is a great examination of what it is like to go through young adulthood. The weird world of childhood is firmly in the rearview mirror, the endless possibility of adolescence is gently fading (or not so gently sometimes), and questions upon questions just come crashing down on you. I can relate to this album so closely. What DO I want to do with my life ("Elevator Operator")? Why AM I staying with this person and why is THIS person staying with me ("Pedestrian At Best")? Is homeownership really all that and a bag of potato chips ("Depreston")? Just who the hell am I anyways (Small Poppies")? It is not a comfortable time, but it is one of growth, countless challenges, and acceptance. Courtney tackles all of those issues with aplomb; writing songs of unflinching honesty and sharing with complete candor about her problems, triumphs, and day-to-day existence.
Reason 2: "Slacker rock" is awesome, and Courtney Barnett is awesome at "slacker rock"; Courtney Barnett is doubly awesome. Although not entirely similar to Mac Demarco, for some reason this album makes me think of his tongue-in-cheek, lazy Saturday stylings. It is guitar-based music with just the right amount of simplicity and plenty of room to breathe. It doesn't make for the most challenging listen, but sometimes it is nice to wile away your day with uncomplicated tunes. The whole ethos is perfectly laid out in the beginning to the stellar "Small Poppies". The bass plods at snail pace while guitar is strummed with the haste of water sliding down your windshield at a car wash. Barnett sings, "I stare at the lawn, it's Wednesday morning / It needs a cut, but I'll leave it growing" and it perfectly captures the take-your-time lazy day mentality in one couplet.
Reason 3: Courtney Barnett's voice is absolutely perfect for her songwriting. Her songs are typically extremely conversational and hyper-detailed, more often a stream-of-consciousness inner dialogue than anything overtly lyrical. As such, her no-frills vocal approach is ideal for her style. She speak-sings with her Australian inflection in tow and although you would never claim she is the strongest vocalist, her singing style is magnetic and charming. Like many great singer-songwriters, she manages to be extremely intimate while simultaneously making the listener as comfortable as if they were listening to an old friend.
Reason 4: "Depreston" is one of the best songs of 2015 thus far (and will likely be one of the songs of the year). Barnett packs a huge punch, ruminating on the implications of suburban house-shopping with her partner in the neighborhood of Preston, outside of Melbourne. The music is wistful, contemplative, and unfrittered. The guitar melody is something that you could listen to looped for an hour without realizing it. Hypnotizing in a "life is strange but beautiful" way, Barnett's songwriting soars by touching on small details that bely the massive themes of the process of aging and mortality. Buying coffee percolators may seem entirely blasé to some, but at some point in life new kitchen accessories really ARE notable. Suburban home-ownership may seem like a soul-sucking scourge for most of your youth, but there has to be something to it or millions of people wouldn't be doing it (right?). And finally, the humanity of death never fades but life always moves forward. The change of Barnett realizing that she isn't shopping in a house, but a home is so powerful. "Then I see a handrail in a shower, a collection of those / Canisters for coffee, tea, and flour / And a photo of a young man in Vietnam / And I can't think of floorboards anymore / Whether the front room faces south or north" are wildly impactful. Somehow, she says so much with so little.
Reason 5: On the subject of her prodigious ability to be succinct and impactful, the album features my nomination for the smartest/dumbest chorus of 2015. On "Nobody Cares If You Don't Go To The Party", Barnett repeatedly sings "I wanna go out, but I want to stay home" amidst swirling guitar squall and power chords. Again, although seemingly unspectacular, this lyric says so much with so little. As someone at a similar phase of life, I can wholly relate to that sentiment and just what it means. Growing up is a weird and uncomfortable time when you are caught between so many different versions of yourself while just trying to make sense of it. I am obsessed with how smart/dumb that rousing chorus is.
Reason 6: Courtney Barnett is Australian. I have never met an Australian I disliked. Seriously. I know crappy Australians exist, but only in the same way that I know the moon is not actually cheese. Also, she is a woman in the rock genre and she absolutely crushes it. I love that.
Reason 7: I have pretty exhaustively covered that she is an incredible songwriter, but it bears mentioning again; it is the best aspect of the album. There are so many gems sprinkled throughout the album and you could find a new favorite lyric every listen. She uses small, mundane details to communicate themes so much greater and subjects worthy of intense contemplation. Contemplation is probably the greatest theme on the album. Courtney is making sense of herself, her state, the world around her, the world's state... It can be quite a bit to take in. But she approaches the subject manner with a wry smile and earnest interest and she is immensely likable. Her willingness to be so personal is courageous, especially as this is her debut full-length album. I am already excited to check back in with her for her next one.
Reason 7.937: This is my rebuttal to Buzzfeed list formatting. My hope is that this is in the wry, witty, and sarcastic spirit of Courtney Barnett. Because more than anything, that is why she kicks so much ass.
8.7/10 - An artist of prodigious promise and incredible song-writing abilities, this album is so inviting and likable. It will be exciting to see where she goes from here.