Review Summary: An emblazoned ode to friendship.
Sixteen thousand kilometres separate Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett and Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile, but a collaboration seemed written in the stars. Watching the two on stage together, it’s hard to imagine the shambolic duo as anything but the oldest of friends. I can picture it now: two smelly teenagers sitting face-to-face on the living room floor - Lennon and McCartney style - honing their songwriting craft in reciprocal conversations of musical creativity. It’s strange then, to learn the pair didn’t meet until Courtney supported Kurt during his first Australian tour in December of 2011. And now, after six years of sporadic emails, long distance phone calls and matter-of-chance festival meet-ups, we’ve arrived at what seems like the inevitable: Lotta Sea Lice
, the pair’s first collaborative album.
The artistic similarities between Barnett and Vile are a miraculous feat of musical convergence. On pastoral opener ‘Over Everything’, the pair trade verses in a laconic Lou Reed-esque drawl; it feels as if you’re pleasantly stoned on the couch, relaxed and content to listen to their existential ramblings. The jangly guitars meander restlessly in unison, and it’s only when Kurt rips a rambunctious Crazy Horse solo during the outro that you can truly differentiate them. Barnett’s anthem to apathy, ‘Let It Go’ continues the conversational tone (‘What time do you wake up? / Depends on what time I sleep’) over a shuffling drumbeat provided by The Dirty Three’s Jim White; the gently lilting melody is more articulate than your average Kurt Vile song, but as always, he sings with endearing congeniality.
‘Outta The Woodwork’ is the first of two self-covers on Lotta Sea Lice
. Kurt transforms Courtney’s original piano dirge into a Spaghetti Western stomper, complete with plucky pentatonic solos and Barnett’s phantasmagorical harmonies. It’s an engaging rendition, but pales in comparison to Courtney’s arresting cover of ‘Peeping Tomboy’ - an underrated Vile-penned sleeper from 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo
. Slowed and transposed, Barnett’s version sounds less Bob Dylan and more Iron and Wine; sun-soaked and wistful, with a melody that swoops and arcs across warm arpeggiated chords. Here the wry wit of the original (‘She was a tomboy / And I was a peepin’ Tom / You know what I mean’) is re-contextualised to reflect Courtney’s sexuality - a newfound profundity amplified by Barnett’s surprisingly yearning vocal performance. Behind the swaggering facade, there’s a touch of Sharon Van Etten-level poignancy.
The ramshackle recording process of Lotta Sea Lice
has imbued plenty of charm, but after the third or fourth listen, the seams begin to fray at the edges. There’s a hint of the Lennon-McCartney curse about this record: multiple songwriters makes for little continuity, and you’ll find yourself playing favourites. But what this album does succeed in, however, is never undermining its own integrity to impress you - a sentiment wonderfully encapsulated by Danny Cohen’s sepia-tinged videoclip for ‘Continental Breakfast’. Mustard chairs and messy studios; pet cats and children’s drawings; family dinners on the porch; we too easily forget that these mundane, inconsequential things are often what we value the most. And just like the videoclip, Lotta Sea Lice
towers as an emblazoned ode to friendship - not just between Courtney and Kurt, but among the extended cast of friends and family that enrich their respective lives.