Featured Artist: Courtney Barnett

Los Angeles – A recent review said that the important thing to note about Courtney Barnett is: Girl can write.  A succinct and accurate description, this is just one musing in the mass of praise the 25-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist has received since the release of her song “Avant Gardener.”

Called a reincarnation of ‘60s Dylan and The Byrds, buzz around Courtney first started in 2012 when the Aussie native started her own label (Milk! Records) and published her first EP “I’ve Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris.” The album met with overwhelming praise in Australia, and in 2013 the release of her second EP, “How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose,” garnered widespread attention, and a “Best New Track” nod from Pitchfork.

Barnett grew up “half in the bush” in Sydney, but moved to Melbourne for a change of pace after a few dismal years at university trying her hand at drawing and photography. Her songs are notable for their wandering, free-form style, more like poetry or rap, spoken in a bluesy, lackadaisical, resigned sort of manner.   Rarely vague and at times brutally funny, they are a mix of mundane breakfast-worthy elements (planting radishes and walking to the store) and the more comedic and quirky (anaphylactic shock, masturbation and hearing the wrong Stones song).  And some are just profound: “I got lost somewhere between here and there, I’m not sure what the town was called.”

Barnett doesn’t rhyme in the typical manner, either.  Not A-B-C-B or A-B-A-B.  Often it comes from several words in the same verse, punching the same vowel.  She’ll go from long sentences to short, staccato ones, and back and forth between traditional rhyme to none at all.  But all her songs tell a story: Memories, the bizarre nature of dreams, social commentary, the everyday, loss, relationship-tinged regret.  

Destined for hipster adoration, Barnett definitely reaches to the absurd.  Her music has a sarcastic quality. It’s as if she can’t believe these things have happened to her, and at the same time, they could only have happened to her.  She is the reluctant, every-girl hero.  Some Emily Dickinson place in between Daria and Hannah from HBO’s Girls.  Her music is visual and image inducing: Blue cartoon seashells, wood floors, pixie sticks.  It feels very familiar.

Musically, it’s a combination of folk and psych rock.  Earlier this year Barnett released “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.” It’s a back-to-back of her previous releases, and according to her, not to be confused for an album.  The difference between the first EP and the second is palpable.  The first is more melancholic and droney.  It’s grungy, more heavily instrumental, less polished, and less endowed with the Courtney Barnett personalities that distinguish her writing.  In the second she’s really mastered her delivery, and the production is overall brighter and clearer.  They are probably better taken as two separate disks than one compilation.  

For the DIY artist, it seems the platform that has catapulted her music is serving more than one objective.  Barnett, who also plays with folk band Immigrant Union, has said until she was 20, she didn’t know there were any good Aussie bands.  Her label now includes six other artists, undoubtedly her friends, for whom the label was in-part created, and it might just be that she becomes as known for her community-building as she is now for her off-beat lyrical prowess.   

She starts next on her first official full-length album, for which she “can’t wait.”


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