Good morning, all hellos and goodbyes; all possibilities, endless; all perfectly frank. Welcome to another edition of Words From The Midwest.
Well, so far in the reinventing of the purpose and theme of this series, I have written about Ezra Furman and then The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Today, I’m going to bring it back to the present and write of a brand new artist: one whose first full length isn’t even in my collection yet, because I’m behind a number of people in line at the library, and I have no money to go out and buy it, although – in addition to Ezra Furman and Okkervil River, the latter of which I’m sure I’ll write about here sooner or later – it will be one of my first purchases as I start my record collection over. And though I don’t have Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I just Sit, I do have The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas spinning as I write this.
And if you haven’t heard of either of these albums, I’m here to fill you in. They are by the newest sensation in Rock and Roll, Courtney Barnett.
Now, let me say straight up that Courtney Barnett’s songs are deceptively simple. She follows classic chord progressions almost to a fault at times, and yet the way she crafts her melodies around these seemingly trite – or at least, seemingly worn – structures are precisely why she’s so damn good. Her lyrics are strange, off the cuff, slacker poetry, and she writes about things which are so mundane and everyday, you’d think they would be almost boring. And that’s kind of why her music is so charming. It’s just so goddamn clever, the way she comes up with a song title as wonderful as Avant Gardener, while simultaneously writing about planting a garden and having trouble breathing, declaring herself as “super-hypochondriactic,” taking a hit from an inhaler, and doing it wrong: “never good at smoking bongs.” Her rhyme schemes make no sense a lot of the time, with lines flowing into and away from each other almost at random. But aside from the way she writes songs, is the very real and visceral way she performs them. There is no gimmick about her. She is real. She is raw. She is exactly what popular music has been waiting for.
And that’s really why I’m writing about her anyway.
I recently read an article about how crossover country (with a lowercase c) is basically the 80s hair metal of today, clogging up the airwaves with an asinine sound and style, with lyrics proclaiming gross, stupid, and banal lifestyles, with vocals which, from song to song and artist to artist, sound identical both in tone and in timbre. Hell, you could pretty much attach the same description to most radio hip hop (which, almost criminally, seems to retread the same beat over and over), and, christ, even the alternative rock, post-grunge, shitty shit of bands like Nickleback and Foo Fighters (yes…the Foo Fighters suck. Period) who try to recapture the worst of the 90s over and over and over…I digress. The article in question basically declares a need for a “Nirvana Moment” or, to put it literally, for an artist to strip away the bullshit pulsating through popular music, offering a unique voice to the masses. And although one could make the case that this moment has probably happened countless times in recent memory, what with the garage rock explosion of the early 21st Century, the rise of Indie Rock (and music put out by indie labels at large, although most of that music has been just as trite and passionless as that which finds its way to the radio waves), it is my belief that Courtney Barnett is that moment. She is the artist we – or at least I – have been waiting for for years. And though the very fact that I first heard about her in Rolling Stone fucking Magazine – the publication most willing to inexplicably give U2’s newest album four stars – is somewhat ironic, the very fact that it would set aside print for a relatively unknown Australian singer-songwriter, is proof enough for me that the music community at large is paying attention. And thank god, really. Because in a world of Justin Beiber, One Direction, and Miley Cyrus (who, on a slightly stranger note, is, somehow, gainging respect in the music community) we have a left-handed, electric guitar playing, Rock and Roll goddess who seems to care way more about making Good Music with, basically, just a guitar-bass-drums setup, than gaining any amount of Pop Fame, and wearing her out-of-left-field status as a badge of honor, culling the space between the notes as as important as the notes themselves…We have ourselves an Artist who is ready to change the world.
And for that, Miss Barnett, I thank you. And I can’t wait to hear your first full length. Because I’ve been playing The Double EP every day for weeks.
And it’s fantastic.
In other, more personal news, I’m beginning work on the Dad’s Typewriter LP today. A year in the making – with me setting it aside to work on more pressing endeavours – it will be a hell of draining experience. But if I can channel even a bit of Barnett’s musicality – while making music that will definitely sound nothing like her’s – I will have made the record I want to make.
Until next time,