Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Courtney Barnett

  • The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas [Mom + Pop/Milk!, 2013] **
  • Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. [Mom + Pop, 2015] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas [Mom + Pop/Milk!, 2013]
So redolent in their way, the EPs' titles, I've Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris and How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose, suggest neither the irresistibility of her greatest shoegaze nor her ill-conceived tendency to strum when she can't think of anything charming to say ("Avant Gardener," "History Eraser") **

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. [Mom + Pop, 2015]
I insist that the most striking advance here is musical, as her Melbourne g-b-d rock out where formerly they strummed her weaker material into oblivion. Not like Nirvana or something--they're nowhere near that galvanic. But they pack the kind of drive and focus that convince the listener every song matters to the people who are playing it, with the singer-songwriter's committed vocals the clincher. I'll concede, however, that song quality per se could have inspired this effect, because these don't quit. Take this casual opener from "Dead Fox," which you'd best believe scans: "Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables and I must admit I was a little sceptical at first a little pesticide can't hurt." Triangulates her culturally--soon we learn that she's always found organic kind of pricey. But what I love most is the half-rhymes that half-link the "vegetables"-"sceptical"-"pesticide" polysyllables before she continues an autobiographical reminiscence based on a road trip through cattle country. That's Barnett's m.o. Formally, her songs are confessional, only they describe her material life and conflicted feelings acutely rather than dreamily, so that the songs occur in and are inflected by a deftly rendered physical and social world. "Dead Fox" isn't even a standout. You want one of those, try "Depreston," in which a house-shopping expedition is stopped dead by a Vietnam snapshot the deceased owner has left behind. Say Barnett is Jens Lekman only folk-grunge not pop. Say she's John Prine as a lesbian boho 40 years his junior from the other side of the globe and maybe tracks. Say she's herself. Hope she remains so. A