By Selena Puente
With track names like “Avant Gardener,” it is hard to resist Melbourne artist Courtney Barnett, and once you hear her I guarantee you’ll be sold — lost in her drowsy voice, poetic lyrics and noise-rock vibe. You will want to grab a popsicle, kick back and read your Aristotle under the shine of the Texas sun. She’s so cool that her debut album cover is a simple hand-drawn recreation of “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”, the most famous of Katsushika Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji,” and is playfully titled “A Sea of Split Peas.” The double EP is her only album out for the moment, but the way she writes sets it apart from most debut albums. Instead of depending on distortion pedals, theatrical electronic arrangements or thumping beats, Barnett writes of dreams and history, as seen in “History Eraser”:
“Just then a song comes on:/ ‘You can’t always get what you want’ – the Rolling Stones, oh woe is we, the irony!/ The stones became the moss and once all inhibitions lost,/ the hipsters made a mission to the farm/ We drove by tractor there, the yellow straw replaced our hair/ We laced the dairy river with the cream of sweet vermouth.”
I think these lyrics have a staying power beyond the typical catchy riffs being created by indie rockers, because they are like lush lyrical re-writings of Bob Dylan jams, especially the Dylan staple, “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” that is so UD-friendly that it makes a playful allusion to Captain Ahab of “Moby Dick,” calling him Captain Arab:
“I was riding on the Mayflower/ when I thought I spied some land/ I yelled for Captain Arab/ I have yuh understand/ who came running to the deck/ said, ‘Boys, forget the whale.’”
Even though these lyrics describe two completely different dreamy times, I think that the same playfulness that Dylan employs in his song is very much present in Barnett’s way of writing. The tastiness of a “dairy river with the cream of sweet vermouth” also seems to throw back to the Harry McClintock folk classic “Big Rock Candy Mountain”:
“In the Big Rock Candy Mountains/ you never change your socks/ and the little streams of alcohol/ Come trickling down the rocks…There’s a lake of stew/ and of whiskey too/ You can paddle all around it/ in a big canoe.”
This is why we need artists like Barnett; she creates worlds that make the listener want to get lost in them. I know there are a lot of artists sprouting up all over the place, but Barnett stands apart as a fresh face in music with a witty mouth, and she deserves your attention.
Recommended Tracks: Like I said, Barnett only has one album out, but I think the standout tracks include “Avant Gardener,” “History Eraser” and “Don’t Apply Compression Gently.” Also, if you don’t know “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” and “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” you must listen to them!
For fans of: Bob Dylan, La Sera, Cat Power, Sonic Youth, or the Mountain Goats.