Sometimes I Just Sit and Listen to an Awesome Album
Wry, witty and melancholic, Courtney Barnett’s new album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” is a testament to the argument that alternative rock never died. The pull-no-punches album, full of witty lyrics and friendly to the guitar, harkens back to the heyday of alternative rock — the 90s — albeit with a heavy Australian accent this time.
The albums opens with the energetic song “Elevator Operator.” It’s an exceptionally fun listen. The lyrics of the song set the satirical standard by which the rest of the album abides.
The premier song is a youthful, erratic tale of a man deciding he won’t go to work one day, instead idling his time on the roof of the Nicholas Building in Melbourne. Eventually culminating in a scene where authorities mistakenly think he’s there to commit suicide.
The authorities (perhaps representative of more materialistic generations such as the Baby Boomers or Generation X) say to the man, “Don’t jump little boy, don’t jump off that roof, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you you’re still in your youth, I’d give anything to have skin like you!” To which the man responds, “All I ever wanted to be was an elevator operator can you help me please?!”
Youthful, fun, and angsty, the son — indeed the album — is largely upbeat, but full of heavier, more socially-conscious lyrics upon closer inspection. Barnett is the product of her generation. The hallmarks of a bleak but hopeful millennial are peppered throughout the album.
The album’s single, “Pedestrian at Best,” is by far the most high-energy, traditionally rock sounding song on the album. But the lyrics are anything but typical. The tone is confident and angry, yet its contrasting lyrics (“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you”) are full of the self-doubt evident in the song’s title.
If the song itself isn’t enough to convince you of that I invite you to watch the music video for it. It features a depressed Barnett moping around a carnival wearing a badge saying “Clown of the Year: 2013.”
Barnett the clown’s attention is taken by another clown who wins the award “Clown of the Year: 2014” before taking money from people’s pockets and being promptly beaten.
Fame and wealth seem a fleeting success in Barnett’s eyes, but she continues, demonstrating a more genuine sense of artistry. Barnett appeals to a higher ideal; music for the sake of art and impactful meaning, rather than hollow commercialism.
Songs like “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” and “Kim’s Caravan” display Barnett’s often sardonic wit, though in different forms.
“An Illustration of Loneliness” is exactly what the title suggests. Barnett reflects on the experience of staying up all night with her mind swirling back and forth between thoughts, and always ends up back at the chorus: “I’m thinking of you too.”
“Kim’s Caravan” conveys a more specific anger in its environmental concern. Barnett laments, “The Great Barrier Reef ain’t so great anymore, It’s been raped beyond belief, the dredgers treat it like a whore.” Really heavy lyrics, but what else can you expect from a native Australian — or anyone with enough common sense to take environmental issues seriously.
In contrast to the energy and tone of the album’s single are glum songs like “Depreston” and “Boxing Day Blues.” Despite their readily apparent melancholia, they are surprisingly pleasant to listen to. Soft in sound, these songs feel as serene and calm as a Buddhist monk. Using a softer tone alongside her clever lyrics has an oddly comforting effect.
Courtney Barnett is as fiercely independent, but not as unflinchingly happy, as fellow Aussie musical acts like The Griswolds or Empire of the Sun. Barnett illustrates the dissatisfaction with life of the millennial generation. The electric guitar and drums are her palette and brush; her painting is her song.
Shy, yet distinct. Gloomy, yet fierce. Monotone, yet complex and emotional. Barnett has crafted a remarkably charming and enjoyable album that has its place everywhere from Urban Outfitters to coffee shops to your iTunes library.
RECOMMENDED: Barnett’s debut album is fantastic. Subtle, complex and thoroughly rock-and-roll, it’s definitely worth a listen.