Heads were turned when Courtney Barnett ambled amiably on to people’s radars with her breakthrough song ‘Avant Gardener’ and its quotidian recounting of a panic attack. Since then the slacker tag has been one that seems intent on attaching itself to Barnett, with her laid back, almost spoken word singing style and penchant for flannel. Despite the not-quite-Pavement-but-oh-so-close tinge to Barnett’s sound, hers still seemed an original voice in the singer-songwriter pool thanks to her meticulously assembled lyrics and wry Australian-accented delivery.
Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is Barnett’s first full length release, following on from 2013’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. What is immediately apparent is how beefed up it is now; much more of a ‘band’ album than just Barnett and a pack of sessioners. Thanks to the inclusion of The Drones’ Dan Luscombe on guitar the tonal textures are more elaborate than before.
The song titles largely assume an air of despondency and introspection – ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’ might even be accused of the worst type of naval gazing if it weren’t for the giddy power pop scaffolding. Barnett’s insecurities and self-deprecation though are ensconced in finely wrought lyrical detail and garage rock riffs. She claimed to “much prefer the mundane” on ‘Avant Gardener’, and it’s this that she narrates with colour throughout the album, everyday minutiae detailed via Barnett’s inner “saturated analogue”.
The songs here are more representative of Barnett’s live sound than her previous work, and ‘Elevator Operator’ kicks things off with one man’s dream to escape the nine-to-five to become a lift operative, mistaken for a jumper when he reaches the roof (“I’m not suicidal just idling insignificantly”). This kinetic ignition follows into ‘Pedestrian at Best’ and a two chord riff of Stooges simplicity, with Barnett’s “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you/Tell me I’m exceptional I promise to exploit you” summing up her thoughts on success thus far. Touches of the louche glam of Lou Reed’s Transformer and Bowery new wave make themselves known at various junctures through the record, touching even on slight Anglocentric psychedelia on ‘Debbie Downer’; certainly the bonus of having a foursome involved in the arrangement of the songs.
One suspects Luscombe’s presence has encouraged the more expansive songs on the album, and these lengthy workouts are its greatest success. ‘Kim’s Caravan’ is dark and downbeat, where a suicidal seal, pollution, eco awareness and The Great Barrier Reef “raped beyond belief the dredges treated like a whore“ are laboured until the repetition of the phrase “So take what you want from me” leads into a guitar-heavy instrumental freewheeler. It’s not Barnett’s only foray into this kind of commentary, even if the “maybe we should mull over culling cars instead of sharks” line on ‘Dead Fox’ seems more an idle musing rather than an appeal for conservationism.
Languid, bluesy doo-wop transforms into a more full-blooded affair via an off kilter, woozy lag and surge effect on ‘Small Poppies’, a song that harks most overtly to the band’s live approach. A shrill guitar takes over at mid-point for a lengthy, discordant solo, and the slacker label suddenly becomes absurd when faced with these Crazy Horse indebted explorations. This heavier approach may be a truer representation of Barnett’s direction than her previous work suggested, especially considering her current moonlighting job in punk band Flange Heavy. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is a step up sonically for Barnett, a fleshed out embodiment of her already fully realised vignettes.