Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit  CoverI don’t listen to the radio enough to know if Clear Channel has jumped on the Courtney Barnett bandwagon or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Australian musician dominates much of the pop culture conversation over the next year. If Ryan Seacrest doesn’t have her phone number programmed into his iPhone by the beginning of summer, I’ll be surprised. And, TMZ will probably assign at least one scumbag photographer to follow her every move. But, to be fair, if any or all of that happens, it won’t be Courtney Barnett’s fault.  With Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett has made an album that is so good even corporate shills will have a hard time ignoring it.

The above paragraph was written before I checked Billboard. To my surprise, I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit has yet to chart! I even checked the iTunes chart – not there. As of the writing of this review, The Ultimate Kenny G sits at #71 on the iTunes chart. But no Courtney Barnett. Did I misunderstand the hype? I mean, critics like Grantland’s Steven Hyden [1] have been raving about this album since January. And I agree. Courtney Barnett’s latest album is possibly the best pop-rock, garage-rock, lo/fi, indie rock, whatever-genre-label-you-think-applies album of the last several years. How can an album that’s this good AND has gotten as much press as I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit still apparently be flying so far under the radar of consumers?[2] I was ready to begin listening to the radio again just so I could hear Courtney Barnett play after Rihanna – or whatever chart topper gets played twice an hour; you may have missed your chance to entice me into your kingdom, Clear Channel.

 

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit ReviewCourtney Barnett began making pretty big waves in the music scene after releasing The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas in 2013. She immediately became a critical darling, with publications like Pitchfork and Stereogum heaping well-earned praise on the songstress from Australia. The brilliant wordplay of her slacker-rock was on put on full display in the YouTube sensation “Avent Gardener,” a video that garnered well over a million views. In no time, Barnett found herself on the Coachella stage, and her star was poised to nonchalantly yet wittily dominate the pop music sky. WHICH IS WHY I STILL CAN’T WRAP MY BRAIN AROUND THE FACT THAT KENNY G IS CHARTING HIGHER THAN SHE IS!!!

If it’s not obvious, my intention for this review has been derailed by spending the last two hours searching online music charts, puzzling over how those music charts work, and puzzling over why Courtney Barnett is missing or, in my opinion, occupying too low of a position. At this point, I no longer remember where I was headed when I first typed “I don’t listen to the radio enough.” Whatever my direction was, it apparently should’ve been something about how bland the cookie-cutter neighborhoods of Billboard, iTunes, et al. have become. Barnett’s I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is not only one of the best albums in recent memory, it has a gravitas that can only emanate from someone who isn’t afraid to speak with her own voice, and who has something to say.

Navel-gazing would probably be an appropriate descriptor for Barnett’s songs, except that she writes with a level of whimsy that I find hard to believe could be achieved by someone who’s memorized the tops of her shoes. On the flipside, there’s a sense of empathy with a genuineness that belies any sort of sneering irony that the listener may expect. Her lyrics are as honestly funny as they are honestly introspective; if her lyrics were to wear a trucker hat, it’s because they’d actually be driving a big rig.

Although Barnett’s music is frequently described as slacker-rock (including in this review), there’s nothing lazy about the musicianship on I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Barnett’s melodies are as catchy as can be found in the best of power-pop, and the harmonies are crisp and never stray too far afield. The guitars, and this probably can’t be mentioned enough, belong in the best part of the 90s. Make no mistake, the best part of the 90s trumps, at least generally, the best part of the last fifteen years[3]. The word “tight” is an oft-used buzz word in music reviews, and I’ll admit that there have been times when I’ve thrown it around out of laziness, but I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit has zero cracks in which to even contemplate listening to another record. In fact, one of the problems I’ve faced in writing this review is that I don’t want to stop it in order to play the same song again; I want to listen to the album from beginning to end.

 

Courtney Barnett 2015However, since this is “technically” a review, I’ll stop the album, listen to a song over and over, and make some music critic-type comments. But I’m only doing it for one song. My stubbornness isn’t the fault of any of the songs; I love them all, and if I had written them, I’d consider all eleven of them equally my wittier-and-catchier-than-your-baby-baby. No, my laziness is because, and paraphrasing myself, I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is just too darn good to parse out the songs; that would require not listening to the album that way it was intended – from beginning to end. So, the lucky song, chosen by an imaginary game of rock, paper, scissors, is “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York).”

When I would teach improvisation, I would have my students play the Dada game. The point of the game is to subvert your brain’s natural tendency for free association[4]. The player has to create a monologue out of words that have zero relation to any other word in the monologue. It’s next to impossible to do, and that’s the point. I used it to illustrate the power of free association and that my improv students could trust their brain. Well, “An Illustration of Loneliness” is almost a textbook example of the opposite of a Dada game. The power of it, of course, is that many of the listeners are going to assume that Barnett has written a series of non-sequiturs. The song begins with Barnett “staring at the wall, counting all the cracks backwards in my best French.” It’s early in the morning, she can’t sleep, and a series of seemingly disconnected observations take her to the source of her loneliness and sleeplessness. Courtney Barnett finds meaning in each of the trivial observations/moments, and she traces them to the most meaningful of all human moments – shared connections.

Do yourself and the world of music a favor; buy I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit and help push Courtney Barnett up the music charts. None of us are satisfied living in a world that allows Ariana Grande and the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack to make homes in the collective musical consciousness and hog chart positions. I’m willing to bet that if we help Courtney Barnett move in, she’ll start inviting some of her friends and eventually the Billboard neighborhood will be safe for us to visit.

Rating: 5/5

Courtney Barnett’s Website

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[1] To give credit where credit is due, or blame, whichever, Hyden and Grantland are the reason why you have these wonderful footnotes to read.

[2] It is #17 on Amazon; #3 on Amazon’s alternative chart. I can’t even find the album listed on Billboard. Billboard’s updates reflect last week’s sales figures, the week that I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was released – so it should be on there. Its highest iTunes position in America was #17. I’m tired of looking at charts and trying to make sense of them all. What I do know, is that Courtney Barnett’s album is hard to find on charts, and that doesn’t make any sense to me.

[3] Make that eighteen years; I have a hard time viewing 97-99 as part of the 90s.

[4] Free association is if I say “dog,” your brain will automatically think “cat” or “fire hydrant” or “Snoopy” or …, you get the point.

John is a theatre artist and writer based out of Arlington, VA. Nowadays, though, most of his artistic output is spent on keeping his two young children amused, occupied, and off of the top of the bookshelves.