As a music writer, I always find it satisfying to discover an unknown artist who was poised for stardom before everybody else knew. That is certainly the case with Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, whom I first saw at a Brooklyn Vegan showcase in Williamsburg back in 2012 during CMJ. It’s remarkable to think back now that when she and her two-piece band hit the stage, Barnett drew a small crowd in the front—it was enough room for me to get up really close and take pictures. Now this artists has gotten rave notices in the press and her upcoming shows in New York City are sold out. How things can change in the span of just a few years is amazing.
And so is Barnett’s latest album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. It is Barnett’s proper studio debut record, whereas her previous full-length release, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, was a combination of two previously released extended play albums. This stunning new record further displays Barnett’s uncanny ability to capture what we consider normal everyday – even mundane– moments in our lives and make them vivid, like what a great short story writer or diarist does. It is most evident on the album’s opening track, the stomper “Elevator Operator,” which describes a twenty-something’s epiphany of ditching work and going up to the top of a building for refuge. Or in the case of the gentle folk-like song “Depreston,” which is possibly about someone going on a house-hunting excursion and describing the surroundings. And the rocking “Dead Fox” takes the listener on a scenic trip of being on the road inside of a vehicle.
Along with some catchy rock numbers, there are also some tracks of yearning and meditative introspection, especially when it comes to relationships- the sense of isolation of being in the Big Apple away from home on “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY)” (How many other songs in pop music history could reference ‘palmistry’ in the lyrics?); that same sentiment is also conveyed on the the tender ballad “Boxing Day Blues.” Barnett manages to also convey the insecurities we’re feeling, whether it’s about ourselves in the epic rocker “Small Poppies,” or the awkwardness of crushing on a fellow swimmer on the poppy “Aqua Profonda.” And also take the song “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” which sums up perfectly those moments when we experience that feeling of indecision.
With a noisy garage rock sound that is a combination of the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, and Joan Jett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is a high benchmark for Barnett. On this record, she and her band sound really nice and tight with some bone crunching guitar riffs on some of the rockers; her talking singing complements her stream of conscious lyrics. Whether its from her own experience or imagination, Barnett is a first-rate storyteller with a keen for detail and insight. Through this record, it would not be a revelation to say what most of her die hard and loyal fans had known all along: Barnett has finally arrived.