Courtney Barnett: What genuine wit is in songwriting

Stringing everyday observations into clever synopses seems effortless for Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett. The 26-year-old from Melbourne makes the obvious captivating. Her commentary on relationships and social norms run like a stream of consciousness—genuine and without punctuation.

Courtney Barnett at Sasquatch! 2015. Photo by Amber Zbitnoff
Courtney Barnett at Sasquatch! 2015. Photo by Amber Zbitnoff

Barnett livens her wit in psychedelic rock that hints of punk and folk influences. Though her lyric style could be argued as Dylan-esque, Barnett remains her own entity and perhaps one of the best lyricists of her generation.

Avant Garderner,” listed on Barnett’s double EP “A Sea of Split Peas,” is a compelling ride of humor expressed in the monotone of Monday. “I take a hit from my asthma puffer, I do it wrong, I was never good at smoking bongs.”

The 2013 double EP is the result of Barnett’s  first two EPs, each taking a year to complete.

“I didn’t want people to misinterpret it as an album,” she said in a 2013 interview with Pitchfork. “Doing these two EPs feels like good practice…I wouldn’t want it to be considered an album because it weirdly feels like a lie.”

Barnett doesn’t busy herself with the ambiguous; she appeals to the plain and familiar, and we’re all the better for it. For example, the opening track “Out of the Woodwork” narrates double standards in relationships: “Do you know you’re not very good at listening, but you’re really good at saying everything on your mind.”

No song is without her satirical dialogue, especially the track “Anonymous Club.”

Barnett is unapologetic of her ambition, not at all musician-like, to be a postal worker packing boxes in the basement of a post office, she said in an interview with Rolling Stone. It’s not surprising that she titled her debut LP “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit,” released in March. Barnett remains sharp and phlegmatic.

In “Pedestrian at Best,” Barnett turns money into origami. “I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny,” she says as she tries to lower the expectations of herself. The song is complemented with angsty vocals and old rock vibes with heavy guitar and drum riffs.

“Depreston” makes for different company. Soft acoustics that are almost beachy are contrasted with melancholic lyrics and dark satire.

Sticking to mundane topics, Barnett continues to add her own twist of intrigue. She is the voice of the small, sometimes strange, observations we tend to ignore.