Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Mom + Pop Music
Courtney Barnett writes songs the way our subconscious minds think. Were I to stream of conscious this review it might go something like this:
Yesterday it was 80, this morning it’s 50 degrees and freezing, but it makes my coffee tastes better so that’s kind of nice. I couldn’t sleep last night, thinking about what might happen today and where I might go. Will I go to the show tonight? Will fate step in and say ‘stay home.’ It’s kind of like that Courtney Barnett song I’ve had stuck in my head all week with the line ‘I wanna go out, but I wanna stay home.’ “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” that song’s called. That just about sums up life, doesn’t it?
I could go on. I could ramble, but without the wit and the infectious melodies that sound a bit like Bob Dylan falling into a rabbit hole with Liz Phair, my early morning mind wanderings don’t have the same appeal as Courtney Barnett’s. It’s the way she twists the ordinary into amusing, and frames the most common thoughts – like swimming (“Aqua Profunda”) or insomnia (“An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY)”) – into perfect pop songs.
She’s got a mouthful of lyrics and a seemingly endless ream of thoughts in her little Australian head, and while she’s weaving those words she’s also wielding riffs that are every bit as eccentric. At the close of “Small Poppies,” she eases the song out for a good two minutes with a leisurely surf guitar solo. “Debbie Downer” has a jangly, bopping rhythm that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Kinks record.
And can we pause for a moment to just appreciate the sheer perfection that is the lead-off single, “Pedestrian at Best”? For those unfamiliar with Barnett’s previous music, compiled on the compilation The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, this song is the place to begin. A biting tantrum of frustration and self doubt delivered with Barnett’s signature gleeful self deprecating speak and scream. “Put me on a pedestal/ and I’ll only disappoint you” she yells at the chorus, and a generational mantra is born. The song is also responsible for the greatest video I’ve seen in years, YouTube it at your earliest convenience.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit takes all of the things we think in our raddled minds and sets it to a sound that takes all of the great things about the 90’s grunge/alternative era and leaves out the heroin and deep angst. It’s a scene shifting record. The kind of album that’s going to inspire a whole slew of copycats, but this one’s the original.
It could be a coincidence, but in Ray Bradbury’s brilliant dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 an unusual girl tells the story’s protagonist about her trips to a psychiatrist. She tells him, “They want t know what I do with all my time. I tell that sometimes I just sit and think. But I won’t tell them what.” Courtney Barnett could be that unusual girl, who likes to question why things are the way they are, and who likes to walk in the rain. And sometimes she sits and thinks. Lucky for us, she’s got her guitar with her while she’s doing it.