Melbourne’s contemplative indie rock star addresses the trials of squaring love with life on the road on her direct and downbeat second album
Courtney Barnett makes lackadaisical-sounding music about being uptight. More often than not, her breezy, sung-talked tunes sweat the small stuff, carrying those underlying anxieties with a strolling gait, a cock-eyed grin and a two-guitar wig-out.
Avant Gardener, the song that introduced this extraordinary Melbourne artist outside the local scene in 2013, told the tale of Barnett going into anaphylactic shock while weeding. Naturally, she blamed herself for being bad at breathing. She worried about the hospital bill. The conclusion to this gem of a slacker-pop tune? She should have stayed in bed.
A recent single, City Looks Pretty, finds Barnett pulling off a similar trick. Her fine band motors along blithely, with just a few guitar effects dissociating in the background to alert you that all is not peachy. In the lyrics, a plaintive Barnett contemplates the ironic lot of the touring musician. “Friends treat you like a stranger and strangers treat you like their best friend,” she notes. “One day, maybe never, I’ll come around.” It’s a mark of Barnett’s skill that she makes this most cliched of themes not only fresh but somehow universal. We all have someone we’re neglecting, some sort of affective jet lag. In a similar vein, Need a Little Time is another grunge-pop classic whose buoyant tune drags some very well-reasoned, considerate misery along behind it.
It is no wonder Barnett has new best friends wherever she goes.