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Music Review The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, COURTNEY BARNETT (House of Anxiety/ Marathon Artists)
2013 was a good year for a select group of solid, yet diverse, debut releases. The blue-ribbon rookie shortlist includes Nashvilleâ€™s Promised Land Sound, a band that draws from The Band and The Replacements in equal measure, psychedelic garage-pop from San Diegoâ€™s Tropical Popsicle (Dawn of Delight), the Transatlantic hard soul duo of Lady, the weary-eyed alt. country of Diamond Rugsâ€™ member T. Hardy Morris (Audition Tapes), Babiesâ€™ Kevin Morby astonishing psychedelic country solo work (Harlem River) and the garage-surf of Seattle quartet La Luz (Itâ€™s Alive). However, flying past 2013â€™s finish line just may be 23-year-old Courtney Barnett from Down Under, and her U.S. debut, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.
Based in Melbourne, Australia, Barnett has been able to siphon and distill influences from her Australian and New Zealand pop brethren, bands such as The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, The Clean, The Bats, and their collective common denominator â€“ The Velvet Underground, as well as more contemporary ones, namely Nirvana, to a certain degree. Barnett forms fresh, no-frills pop, while executing them in a deadpan vocal delivery. Judging from The Double EP, an eclectic collection of two EP works (previously released in her home country in 2012), she has earned a place with some of the cream of recent new talent from her quadrant, south of the equator, with bands such as Tame Impala and Ghost Wave.
The opening track, â€œOut of the Woodwork,â€ a tack-piano-riff, mid-tempo, neo-Western tune that is led by Barnettâ€™s casual vocals, leans moretowardsLee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra than it does to Lou Reed. And like Hazelwood, Barnett isnâ€™t attempting to subvert pop genres, rather she inventively combines them. Whatâ€™s surprising is Barnettâ€™s straightforward, not bored or lazy, voice and perspective she employs as a songwriter. Her freewheeling stream-of-conscience lyrics in â€œHistory Eraserâ€ are pointedly executed, wrapped in an arrangement reminiscent of Dylanâ€™s â€œSubterranean Homesick Bluesâ€ or Elvis Costelloâ€™s â€œPump It Up.â€ Yet, as opposed to the aforementioned lads, Barnett is free of an underlying sneer, focusing instead on the narratorâ€™s fragmented memory, using her wordplay as joyful surrealism: â€œI found an Ezra pound and made a bet that if I found a cigarette Iâ€™d drop it all and marry you.â€
Barnettâ€™s vocal cuts through the psychedelic dirge of â€œAvant Gardner,â€ the recordingâ€™s highlight, with her trustworthy narrator, who, while beginning to weed her front garden, is suddenly struck with an asthma (or panic) attack. â€œHalfway down High Street, Andy looks ambivalent. Heâ€™s probably wondering what I'm doing getting in an ambulance,â€ she relates. â€The paramedic thinks I'm clever cos I play guitar. I think sheâ€™s clever cos she stops people dying.â€
â€œDoing these two EPs feels like good practice,â€ Barnett commented, in a recent interview with Pitchfork. â€œBut I wouldn't want it to be considered an album because it weirdly feels like a lie.â€ However, with this collection of two EPâ€™s, Barnett has already proven that she is a mature songwriter, who never bends to sentimentalism or youthful romanticism. Instead, she is keen storyteller, with an excellent ear for a good pop melody and a sly sense of humor. And whether or not the young, talented Australian singer-songwriter intended The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas to be a bonafide album release, this document makes a strong argument for her virgin U.S. collection to be the finest debut released this year. One only looks forward in hearing Barnettâ€™s future, â€œproperâ€ album.
Mark Shikuma is a freelance writer and poet who resides in the sticks of Humboldt County, CA. He currently works as the Music Director for KHSU, 90.5, Arcata, CA, a community-based, Public Radio station.