If only existential crises were as fun as Courtney Barnett makes them seem. On her debut full length record, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett delivers a snapshot of the life of a twenty-something: an aimless confusing existence composed of equal parts punk, rock and roll, and ‘80s shambling indie pop. The result is hauntingly accurate and strangely anthemic for those living in a transitional liminal space— troubled enough to get sad to, upbeat enough to yell along to. An excellent combination.
No song nails this combination like opener “Elevator Operator,” a loosely rocked-out number about a depressed office worker. The lyrics to this song, as with the rest of the record, are utterly dense—an unfiltered ramble streaming among brightly strummed electric guitars. Barnett’s voice is slightly bored as she recounts this strange dual crisis: “Don’t jump little boy, don’t jump off that bridge….he said ‘I think you’re projecting the way that you’re feeling.”
“Pedestrian At Best” is a little bit harder; a more pronounced punk or grunge edge pervades this anthem of false perception. Here, Barnett lets some grit into her voice to overpower the wall of sound behind her: “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you/tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you.” As close to catharsis as Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit will get, “Pedestrian At Best” is somehow an empowering way of saying “I’m really not that great.”
The K Records influence pervades a good portion of the record, taking its best form with “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party,” a perfect sonic representation of the introvert’s desire for social interaction, but without having to get out of bed. “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home,” Barnett flatly delivers over a beachy melody.
Some of the record’s best moments aren’t well-suited for a sunny drive, however. “Small Poppies” is a long, bluesy cut that comes across like a daytime fever dream: “I dreamed I stabbed you with a coat hanger wire.” “Depreston” broods over the story of a couple buying their first home together, building up to a delicate delivery of the record’s most heartbreaking lines: “If you’ve got a spare half a million/ you could knock it down and start rebuilding.” This may seem mundane, but in reality it’s a prescient reminder that it’s okay to start over if the resources are available— but that means giving up on what’s been built so far. This is the crux of what makes Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit such a good record. The pervading feeling of steam being lost in an effort to make more of one’s life, but a willingness to go on trying anyway. More than anything, “Sometimes” is about control over identity, self and destiny. Courtney Barnett is startlingly wise in this department, and this debut record is essential listening because of it.
NOTE: This article was originally published in The Minaret