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Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

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Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit | Courtney Barnett


In Australia, do you think vinyl records spin counter-clockwise? Maybe it’s illogical to equate toilet water with analog audio from our friends below the equator, but considering the enigma that is the land down under, the jury’s still out on that question. An equally unknown entity and brilliant segue is Australian singer-songwriter and entrepreneur, Courtney Barnett. After releasing a few EPs under her own Milk! Records, the Melbourne-based musician signed to Mom + Pop Music, an independent label that also carries Metric, Cloud Nothings, and Andrew Bird. Barnett has achieved some regional success with a nomination for the APRA Australian Song of the Year for her track “History Eraser”, and briefly grabbed the national attention with her EP How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. But, when the songwriter dropped her debut studio album, the lengthy-titled Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, the heretofore ambivalent indie music fan became highly aware of Barnett’s existence.

The opening track “Elevator Operator” introduces the listener to Barnett’s unique vocal and lyrical delivery. It’s been described as deadpan and near-spoken word, and her Melbourne-accented singing voice only rises to higher notes periodically. The duration of the first song features Barnett describes the melancholic day of the eponymous elevator operator, where she quickly rattles off observations, emotions, interactions, and minor details over some energetic drums, bass, and distorted guitar. It’s a good track, and on this particular song, Barnett’s sprechsgesang approach sounds appealing. The second track carries over the rock spirit with “Pedestrian at Best”, a cut that sounds similar to a Pixies B-side from the Trompe le Monde days. Yet, the lyrics and singing style on the song have a grating effect, where Barnett keeps speak-singing with a ranting gusto that borders on rapping, but it doesn’t work in the captivating way she intends. “Pedestrian at Best” unfortunately acts as a harbinger of what’s to come on the rest of SISATASIJS: more than 30 minutes of monotonous indie music.

The music of SISATASIJS is strictly indie. On each of the album’s 11 tracks, there are very few deviations from the singular genre, which at times feels like it’s being applied to the listener’s ears with blunt force by a hip, black-rimmed indie baseball bat. This is not to say that the content of SISATASIJS is heavy, brutal, or aggressive; the indie music that Barnett records is so cloying and one-dimensional, the songs are never absorbed because they’re catchy or dynamic, but rather because the overbearing genre drone forcibly bores into one’s brain. Barnett channels influential indie acts like Jawbreaker and Guided By Voices with the songs “Depreston” and “Nobody Cares if you Don’t Go to the Party”, but the shining moments in each cut are tarnished by Barnett’s vocal delivery. Tracks like the penultimate “Kim’s Caravan” and closer “Boxing Day Blues” end the album in mediocrity, slowly moving with largely uninspired instrumentation and sleepy singing.

Barnett appears to want to create music that combines the stream of consciousness lyricism of Sun Kil Moon and rebellious grungy spirit of Hole, but since she’s strictly committed to her particular style of singing, the final product is anything but groundbreaking. Aside from the occasional stirring guitar riff or slightly-rousing hook, the quality of SISATASIJS’s indie cred underperforms on tape. This all sounds harsh, but it’s obvious when an artist pledges allegiance to an idea and never tries to take it into more complex climes.

An apt comparison to Courtney Barnett is the Nottingham, England band Sleaford Mods, an extremely stripped-down duo consisting of a keyboardist and a rapper. Their production is lo-fi, the keyboardist is limited to minimal samples and beats, and the vocalist’s contribution to the band is a heavy English-accented rant-style diatribe; however, the biggest difference between Courtney Barnett and Sleaford Mods is that the Mods sound like they’re trying to make interesting music with what they have. Both bands rely on a fast-paced lyrical assault with deadpan inflections in their regional accents, and yet the Sleaford Mods actually seem to want to make multi-faceted tunes. Barnett has a full band and a very astute ability as a wordsmith, but she rarely takes advantage of her assets and instead produces middling coffee shop-safe indie rock.

A lot of people are going to like Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and they’re going to be completely justified in enjoying Courtney Barnett’s lyrics and unique musical output. And some listeners will appreciate the sheer indie-ness permeating every aspect of the album. Personal taste plays a huge role in the consumption of this LP, and listeners who dabble in alternative scenes will potentially like SISATASIJS. But, for the album’s bright spots, there are painfully obvious stretches of shallow creativity and exhaustively ingratiating indie worship. Hopefully Barnett’s next album is more inspired and less forgettable.

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was released by Mom + Pop Music on March 20th

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