Though Courtney Barnett, a 30-year-old singer-songwriter from Australia, released her second solo LP a couple weeks ago (Tell Me How You Really Feel, May 18)…that is not what I’m here to talk about. While it is a great album, I revisited the rest of her discography on a recent long drive and knew I had to write about an earlier release: 2013’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.
This release is a compilation of two EPs released by Barnett in 2012 and 2013; it’s less of an album, more a collection of songs. Though not originally intended to be a single release, this is a great coming of age work. With witty, half-sung, half-spoken, and often laconic lyrics, Barnett explores both the mundane and the extraordinary in an easy and insightful manner rarely seen in young artists.
Barnett is often categorized as “slacker rock”. From the opening notes of the double
EP, it is clear why she is put into this box, but these songs offer so much more. With languid, altered guitar riffs, Barnett takes us on some psych rock jaunts. Her ability to write simple music that underscores lyrical themes shines when the album takes more surf-y and upbeat turns. There are also flashes of folk and country inspiration peppered throughout: she takes us on a rambling, fever dream-like dalliance reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s lyrical style in “History Eraser”, then uses a drunken, off-kilter piano solo at the end of “Porcelain” to drop us into a dusty saloon.
Barnett’s lyrical style is as varied as her musical influences, ranging from the
straight narrative of “Avant Gardener” – in which Barnett suffers a panic attack while gardening – to succinctly relaying an entire conversation in “Are You Looking After Yourself”. While “Avant Gardener” is a fairly straightforward story, it also manages to explore the desire to escape our own thoughts – which sometimes backfires, but can still be an opportunity for growth. “Are You Looking After Yourself” will be familiar to anyone who’s challenged their parents’ idea of what their adult life should be like. Barnett’s back and forth with the parent (almost definitely a mom) is at first defiant, until it seems like a seed of doubt is down, and she admits “…I don’t know what I was thinking, maybe I should get a job…“. She immediately recants this admission by launching into a 3 1/2 minute guitar solo that says “yeah, I think I’m gonna stick with music.”
While Barnett is extremely talented as both a musician and a lyricist, it is her ability to combine the two in order to transport us into the world of the song that makes her unique as an artist. The songs on The Double EP examine various aspects of a life in flux: relationships failing or flourishing, parental pressure to succeed by choosing a more traditional path, and finding growth and self-acceptance among all the chaos of young adulthood.
These songs have been some of my favorite to revisit as I navigate my 20s; I continue to be inspired by Barnett’s ability to be confident yet self-effacing, kind of lost but still okay – feelings that are all too familiar to many of us.
Meagh is concert-hopping and record-collecting her way towards her 30s, always open to the new music and experiences they bring her way. She lives in Newburgh, NY.