Review Summary: A pleasant float down the lazy Courtney River
Hunter S. Thompson wrote the following to his friend seeking life advice:
"Whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect- between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming."
According to Thompson, while most people miss this distinction, Courtney Barnett certainly does not. While many understandably describe her music to be "slacker", I think that's slightly off the mark. While there aren't any overt thematic elements in lyrical content or tone/tempo song to song, I think there's a broader connection between them all. Her music, to me at least, is a characterization of the aforementioned floating life philosophy. Every song, captured through Courtney's eyes and bearing her distinctive carefree charm, sucks you into her world. Therein lies the beauty of it all, because whether you can personally relate or not, you can't help but feel that you're floating along with her.
Technically speaking, she doesn't do anything particularly unique on this album. Her voice is not notably distinctive, powerful or good for that matter. The instrumentation, while interesting at times, is not going to wow anyone. I will say she is strongest lyrically, as her wit and descriptive ability are solid if not spectacular. But it's how everything comes together to create that distinctly Courtney Barnett sensibility to it that is unique and easy to enjoy. As mentioned, this doesn't imply a sameness; while many tend to be a touch downtempo, there aren't any steadfast rules this album abides by. I appreciate how the songs attempt to create a varied atmosphere and encompass many different topics and sounds. The more energetic moments like "History Eraser" and "David" are certainly refreshing but I think the true strength lies in the more subdued tracks. My favorite track on the album, "Anonymous Club" showcases all the things that make this album great. From the ethereal beauty of her average voice, the minimal but effective sonic backdrop and lines that echoed in my head for weeks; to me, this song puts the proverbial Courtney glasses on you from the first word to the last and gives me a tingly feeling every time I hear it.
All of this lends itself to create a charming and comprehensive portrait of how she sees and feels the world around her. Whether it's internally debating a more structured, normalized lifestyle versus her carefree floating on "Are You Looking After Yourself" or her account of an asthma attack in her garden on "History Eraser", I imagine every word crooned and chord carelessly strummed to be a perfect embodiment of what it means to be Courtney: cool, witty and floating, not swimming, in the great ocean of life.