Courtney Barnett won my musical heart last year with her witty tale of a horticulturally-induced asthma attack (Avant Gardener) and now she’s back with an equally punchy LP, ‘Sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit’. Offering wry musings on moving to the suburbs, palmistry and new-found environmentalism, amidst jagged guitars and continuing references to breathing difficulties, this is an early contender for markontour’s album of the year – but for now it is Album of the Week.
Opening track ‘Elevator Operator’ gets things off with a bang and appears to find the singer saving a young man atop a tower block: “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.” But the tables quickly turn and find the apparently suicidal subject retorting: “I think that you’re projecting the way that you feel / I’m not suicidal just idiling insignificantly / I come up hear for perception and clarity / I like to imagine I’m playing Sim City / All the people look like ants down there”. It turns out his dream is to be an elevator operator.
That’s about as dramatic as it gets, because ‘Sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit’ is mostly concerned with squeezing the funny and unique out of the mundane. Inded track 6, ‘Aqua Profunda!’, almost enters Half Man Half Biscuit territory in this regard, and chronicles Barnett trying, and failing, to impress a fellow swimmer. “Dead Fox’ recalls the singer’s introduction to organic vegetables and offers an environmental manifesto of sorts: “We should consider culling cars instead of sharks”. It also marks the return of the breathing problems humourised on her debut EP: “Sometimes I think that a single sneeze could be the end of us / My hayfever is acting up / Just swerved into a passing truck”.
Best of all is track five, ‘Depreston’, my live favourite last year that has now been thankfully saved to vinyl. Detailing Barnett’s move to a dull Melbourne suburb (no offence to my Melburnian friends – I’m just following the singer’s lines), the song turns from a shrug about saving a few dollars through avoidance of the enticements of hipsterville, to a delicate observational story about the deceased former owner of her new home. You really have to listen to it, but to end this homage to a new star of the story-song here’s a flavour:
“You said we should look out further / I guess it wouldn’t hurt us / We don’t have to be around all these coffee shops.
Now we’ve got that percolator / Never made a latte greater / I’m saving $23 a week.
It’s got a lovely garden / A garage for two cars to park in / Or a lot of room for storage if you’ve just got one.
Then I see the handrail in the shower / A collection of those canisters for coffee, tea and flour / And a photo of a young man in a van in Vietnam
And I can’t think of flooroards any more / Whether the front room faces south or north / And I wonder what she bought it for.”