Mixing witty, often hilarious, occasionally even heartbreaking observations with devastating self-assessment, Courtney Barnett’s debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, cements her standing as one of the most distinctive and compelling voices in indie rock. These songs reveal not only an assured songwriter and guitar player, but also an artist who in just a few years has already proved highly influential.
Her songs may not sound tightly coiled, but they are carefully and exactingly structured. Her lyrics may ramble, but each word is carefully chosen. She is, however, no perfectionist. In fact, she may be an imperfectionist: Barnett strives to fine-tune her songs as much as possible, but she knows that their flaws—a missed note here, a flubbed line there—can make the music sound more human, more relatable, more sympathetic.
“My songs follow me as a normal human with normal emotions,” she explains, “so there are great highs and great lows. They span everything in my life.”
Barnett and her band—which includes Dan Luscombe on guitar and the surprisingly nimble rhythm section of Bones Sloane on bass and Dave Mudie on drums—recorded the album at Head Gap Studio in Melbourne during the fall of 2014.
“We’d start midday and work until quite early in the morning,” she says. “Of course, half the time is sitting around waiting for the engineer to get a mic into place or something like that.”
The band used the downtime to take these songs apart and put them back together again. Nothing was taken on faith; every note and every word was parsed.
Now that these songs are on record, she will not stop tweaking and perfecting them. The more she lives with them—the more she plays them out, the more fans react to them—the more alive they sound to her, often disclosing new meanings and direr implications.
“They keep revealing themselves,” she says. “They change from touring and recording. They morph and change form and can end up sounding completely different. I hope it’s like that forever.”