New Column! Foggy Notion: Music, Film and Books Under a Magnifying Glass (and Dim Lighting)

foggy notion post image

Music Review The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, COURTNEY BARNETT (House of Anxiety/ Marathon Artists)

[embed size="compact"]http://open.spotify.com/track/0U49QcRHyGfbmhhbNl92Q4[/embed]

2013 was a good year for a select group of solid, yet diverse, debut releases. The blue-ribbon rookie shortlist includes Nashville’s Promised Land Sound, a band that draws from The Band and The Replacements in equal measure, psychedelic garage-pop from San Diego’s Tropical Popsicle (Dawn of Delight), the Transatlantic hard soul duo of Lady, the weary-eyed alt. country of Diamond Rugs’ member T. Hardy Morris (Audition Tapes), Babies’ Kevin Morby astonishing psychedelic country solo work (Harlem River) and the garage-surf of Seattle quartet La Luz (It’s Alive). However, flying past 2013’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 – 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.

courtney-barnett-660x554

The opening track, “Out of the Woodwork,” a tack-piano-riff, mid-tempo, neo-Western tune that is led by Barnett’s casual vocals, leans moretowardsLee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra than it does to Lou Reed. And like Hazelwood, Barnett isn’t attempting to subvert pop genres, rather she inventively combines them. What’s surprising is Barnett’s straightforward, not bored or lazy, voice and perspective she employs as a songwriter. Her freewheeling stream-of-conscience lyrics in “History Eraser” are pointedly executed, wrapped in an arrangement reminiscent of Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up.” Yet, as opposed to the aforementioned lads, Barnett is free of an underlying sneer, focusing instead on the narrator’s fragmented memory, using her wordplay as joyful surrealism: “I found an Ezra pound and made a bet that if I found a cigarette I’d drop it all and marry you.”

Barnett’s vocal cuts through the psychedelic dirge of “Avant Gardner,” the recording’s highlight, with her trustworthy narrator, who, while beginning to weed her front garden, is suddenly struck with an asthma (or panic) attack. “Halfway down High Street, Andy looks ambivalent. He’s probably wondering what I'm doing getting in an ambulance,” she relates. ”The paramedic thinks I'm clever cos I play guitar. I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying.”

“Doing these two EPs feels like good practice,” Barnett commented, in a recent interview with Pitchfork. “But I wouldn't want it to be considered an album because it weirdly feels like a lie.” However, with this collection of two EP’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 Barnett’s future, “proper” 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.