Louder, fuller and more assured, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit builds on the promise of her first two EPs and then some.
Australia’s Courtney Barnett announced herself to the world fully formed with a one-two punch of thoughtful, shambolic folk pop delivered in a detached monotone via a pair of EPs. Proving herself a revelatory songwriter with a keen eye for nuance and detail, Barnett’s lyrics featured a host of densely structured, often mundanely autobiographical lyrics, most notably the glorious “Avant Gardener.” Playing like a series of stream of consciousness diary entries set to music, 2013’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas proved an exemplary opening salvo from a young, vital artist.
But in a culture where the flavor of the week (or are we now down to the hour?) is infinitely disposable and quickly forgotten regardless of quality, such high praise for a debut can easily prove an albatross. With blogosphere backlash more a foregone conclusion than a surprise, crafting a follow up to a critical darling can prove a dicey proposition for even the most seasoned artists.
Rather than striking immediately in the wake of The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’ success, Barnett follows that cobbled-together release of existing material some two years later with Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, her first proper full-length. What’s most immediately apparent is Barnett has upped the production, creating a tightly wound, more impactful brand of indie pop that retains its grimy origins but does so deliberately rather than out of necessity. It’s a fuller, more muscular sound that carries with it an air of well-deserved confidence, both in the material and the more fleshed-out arrangements.
Opening track “Elevator Operator” is a character study in miniature, weighing in on our projected perceptions of others, looking for something of ourselves in those we deem as pitiable but who are, in fact, living the life they desired. This idea of misperception permeates much of the record, as though she were seeking to undermine expectations by simply continuing unapologetically along her own path.
“Pedestrian At Best” practically screams out for the closer inspection she knows is coming, encouraging the onslaught of critiques and scrutiny the album is sure to garner. Glibly acknowledging the situation in which she finds herself, she sings, “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you/ tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you.” With this, she dares tastemakers to place her where this album will no doubt land her, well aware of the potential outcome and providing fair warning to those who might test her.
It’s a brazen move coming so early in the album, but it merely serves to set the stage for what’s to come. Everything about Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is bigger and better than its predecessors. Not only is there vastly improved fidelity, Barnett also expands stylistically, adding extra dimensions to her previous, somewhat formulaic, approach. By branching out, she displays a broader range of textures; favorable improvements that occasionally crack her deadpan delivery and help lend additional depth and accessibility.
Lyrically, Barnett remains just as dense, with words coming at a rate nearly impossible to fully digest even after repeated listens. Throughout, she delivers a seemingly unending stream of lyrics, each dispensed in a rapid, frantic cadence. Adhering more to a traditional verse/chorus structure, her songs still play more as linear narratives that could easily function as the plot of a short story or film than average pop songs. Thankfully, the album features handwritten lyrics and charmingly sketched depictions of furniture, each corresponding to its lyrical content. With this, the listener can gain a full appreciation for Barnett’s undeniable talents as a writer.
Equally unafraid to explore songs to their breaking points, several tracks on Sometimes I Sit stretch beyond the seven minute mark, in no hurry to reach their conclusion, content to enjoy the surroundings, spending time in Barnett’s lushly dense lyricism. “Small Poppies,” in particular, features an extended, delightfully strangled guitar solo that often pushes into more atonal, avant-garde territory than anything Barnett’s done previously, while “Depreston” is a lovely ballad that finds her sounding more than a bit like Cat Power in her sultry, husky vocal approach and bent notes.
Louder, fuller and more assured, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit builds on the promise of her first two EPs and then some. With a catalog this consistently excellent, Barnett has set herself up as a vital artist, one who’s well aware of her flaws and the potentially fleeting nature of her current fame and praise. Not letting any of it go to her head and continuing to operate on her own terms, she delivers an exceptional collection of songs sure to find themselves on a number of year-end best lists.