Courtney Barnett - The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

A twelve track release filled to the brim with a collection of humorous and brilliant narratives.

Additional Info

7.5

ALBUM: The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

ARTIST: Courtney Barnett

2013

Alternative

Courtney Barnett has settled into the nest of the term “slacker,” with her apathetic vocals and drowsy guitar riffs, but under the wrong impression that her style parallels her work ethic. The Australian native released The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas only a little bit over a year ago today, started her own label Milk! Records, and is touring endlessly with big name festivals under her belt this summer, including Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Glastonbury, Coachella. This does not sound anything like the indifferent and sardonic characters Barnett depicts in her story-like lyrics in “Avant Gardener” or “Are You Looking After Yourself,” where she hasn’t purchased a new TV for over four years. The talented lyricist quit her job as a bartender in order to pursue her calling as the next Melbourne singer to fly the coop and seize admiration worldwide - no couch potato insight.

The twelve track release is a combination of Barnett’s previous released EPs, How to Carve a Carrot Into a Rose and I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris. Barnett stated in an interview with Pitchfork that she doesn’t consider the double EP an actual album.

“The album is essentially just songs that I’ve written over the past year so it represents where my mind has been over the past year, and it’s unrealistic to think people stick to one wavelength. It’s got the ups and downs that everyone has — the emotional, life things"

Quotes like this help to paint a picture of life struggles and lyrical playfulness, as her detailed imagery and stone-faced sarcasm are the vivid colors illustrating a cool portrait of Barnett. Her genius lies in the narrative and her versatile vocals that range from fragile to indifferent, reflecting a prism of Barnett’s personas. Barnett makes the music personal, accessible, and comfortable, engaging the listener and transforming him/her into more than just an eavesdropping bystander. It feels as though Barnett is actually speaking with you rather than at you, which her laid back and personable lyrics emphasize. She makes you actually listen to the words that she’s saying, anchoring the listener, as they await every moment of her commentary.

There’s a refreshing humanity that Barnett brings to her music, in both lyrics and delivery, that is exciting to hear amongst our malnourished music industry, where artificial hits line the shelves to fulfill our shallow sweet tooth. On “Avant Gardener,” Barnett tells a tale of having some type of panic attack or allergic reaction that is oddly humorous as well as thought provoking. She realizes that she might as well give up on trying new things when the ordinary is much safer. “History Eraser” is a surreal track with a romantic backbone as the charming, zombie-like chorus sings, “In my brain I re-arrange the letters on the page to spell your name,” followed by stream of consciousness inspired tales: “I touched on and off and rubbed my arm up against yours and still the inspector inspected me./The lady in the roof was living proof that nothing really ever is exactly as it seems.” The the hidden gem of The Double EP, “Anonymous Club”, is magical and whimsical, filled with delicate guitar wailing and subtle production that lets the narration and vocals shine through. The spectrum of Barnett’s narration is far from boring or minuscule, however her production is just the opposite. Piano here and there, scrawny guitar strums, and simple percussion fill the atmosphere around Barnett’s multifaceted vocals. This allows for Barnett’s true talents to hold the spotlight.

The collection of songs, although a nice showcase for Barnett, seem to be a bit overlooked, especially the last three tracks of the enlarged EP. “Canned Tomatoes” seems like a promising tune from the beginning with the furious strumming and funky guitar overlapping, but the song drags on for too long and doesn’t seem to reach a satisfactory climax, aside from the noise at the end. “Porcelain” is a hauntingly bleak track, but also lags on for three unnecessary minutes and is out of place on the release with “Ode to Odetta” following shortly behind. It’s unfortunate that the last impression of the EP is based upon these three tracks, as Barnett started off on such a strong foot, but is unable to continue the momentum throughout the record.

Overall, Barnett shows extreme promise with her laid back ways as The Double EP is not even Courtney Barnett’s first album, but a practice run. Thankfully, we do not have to wait too long to hear the official debut of the Aussie singer, as she recently commented that she just wrapped up her new album. Hopefully we will get to see more vision oriented work from Barnett while still keeping the nineties indie rock and bluesy inspiration, deadpan vocals, and brilliant lyrics. With her name becoming known worldwide, she just might find splice in her anonymous club.

“I found an ezra pound and made a bet that if I found a cigarette I’d drop it all and marry you.”

1. Out of the Woodwork
The sharp piano wakes the album up against the deluded guitar in the background. A delicate piano solo introduces the track until Barnett’s vocals echo in. There is an instant tang of melancholy that haunts the track with the hollow vocals that sound indifferent instilled with a bit of sadness. The chorus is lovely as Barnett’s vocals drag and drift away. The slow tempo of the track and the “she’s so easy” chorus bit leaves one in a haze. Barnett is singing at someone in the track as the words, “Just because you’re older than me/ doesn't mean you have to be so condescending,” wisp on by. The track is like a surreal argument, a dream dispute. The “she’s so easy” part brings to light that she might be speaking about a relationship, especially with the ending line, “Where’s the more important person in the room?” Whomever the target may be, the track is filled with a substantial amount of concentrated passive aggression with great lines like “It must be hard trying so hard/ to look like you’re not trying at all” and “Jump on your horse and tell me how’s the view”. The opening about drowning underwater with the image of the flower also includes this metaphorical melancholic contrast of the pain in Barnett’s voice and the peculiar beauty. The track is an adequate opener, showcasing the narrative lyrics and dull vocals of Barnett, accompanied by the shimmering piano.7.5
2. Don’t Apply Compression Gently
Rubbery guitar riffs and bouncy backup strumming composes the introduction that creates a relaxed tone with the hidden organ-like sounds in the back. Barnett sings about being thankful to be separated from a toxic companion; she discusses struggling with being inauthentic as she “takes pieces of [herself] from everyone around [her]” and “replicates the people [she] admires”. But she compensates for this struggle with the stab “but at least I’m not bitter and sad”. More melancholic tones fill with air, just like the opening track, as a result of the softness of Barnett's vocals and the upbeat rhythms combined with the hostile lyrics. The clarity of the song’s content is to the extent of being able to understand what Barnett is saying, yet not knowing the exact storyline. As a result, one create one’s own background or relation to the song. This honesty and accessibility in content is what makes this track an easy listen and endearing song. 7.5
3. Avant Gardener
The mordant nature of Barnett’s content comes to light with the opening lines, “I sleep in late, another day/ Oh what a wonder, oh what a waste/ It’s a monday, it’s so mundane/ what exciting things will happen today?” The disconnected tone of the vocals make heightens the sarcasm as Barnett cracks jokes about her neighbors thinking she runs a meth lab and gardening to keep her mind from thinking about what it’s supposed to. The dismal guitars manifest a warped and oceanic vibe that combines nicely with the chaotic lyrics. The track is essentially about having your everyday encounter with anaphylactic shock or a panic attack. It’s not totally gruesome, but the idea is so wild and original in its humor. While the album’s overarching melancholy is there, the humor is more abundant on this track than others, with the looming depression that Barnett hints at conjuring a bit of an existential layer. “The paramedic thinks I’m clever cause I play guitar, I think she’s clever because she stops people dying,” Barnett whips out exposing a minuscule superficial aspect of the present that values something with a glamorous stigma versus something that is heroic. The silliness of the tune with the sly, serious undertones construct a unique dissonance of humor, boredom, and hopelessness, as Barnett comes to the conclusion that she “Should've stayed in bed today, I much prefer the mundane". The seventies inspired production of morphing sounds and screams settled against the steady drumbeat are the perfect backdrop for the trippy and fantastic story Barnett guides us on. 8.5
4. History Eraser
The clumsy guitar blasts through as Barnett begins her monotone rant about dreamy gumption. The momentum of the track is ingeniously infectious. Her voice fades within a crowd of zombies that chant, “In my brain I rearrange the letters on the page to spell your name”. The song is a surreal train ride of mental flow that fumbles with fantastical memories and play-on-words. The song is consciously aware of this dreamlike state and conscious flow with the line, “I lost my train of thought and jumped aboard the epping,” which is the metro in Austrailia. The lyrics are a mixture of mystical images and hypnagogic collisions that make the track humorous and charming. With witty allusions about Ezra Pound and The Rolling Stones, Barnett fires rhyming originality too that melodically sounds appealing, but also makes no sense in the most clarifying way. The bending guitar riffs and upbeat tambourine are significant details that pair the production and the content in perfection.9.5
5. David
The opening guitar melody, and pounding drums immediately lend the song a western blues feel that is refreshing for the album’s sound. The track is lively and soulful. The lyrics follow a simple pattern, as the last line of the verse is the line of the chorus. Unfortunately, this causes the track to sound like it’s spinning in circles. 6.5
6. Anonymous Club
Barnett’s vocals sound airless and vulnerable, opposite the monotone and indifferent persona she takes on earlier in the album. Her voice sounds trapped in a cave as the vibrations echo and bounce off the cold, wet walls. Male vocals accompany her and this delicate, yet subtle, harmony is constructed. The strumming of the guitars is simple and timid, accompanied by shimmering and whaling synths in the background. The song seems to build up in the center, but has no destination and stays consistent in its pace, with the anticlimactic, yet satisfactory tune, settling in. It’s the first song on the album that decelerates and gives way to a softer side of Barnett. The lyrics also capture a beautiful vulnerability, as Barnett wants to start an “anonymous club”. It sounds like some secret vessel of opportunity that is exclusive only to the one that chooses to expose itself too. The track shimmers with innocence, as Barnett leaves signs of youth and comfort like breadcrumbs for us to follow, “Let’s start an anonymous club, I’ll make us name badges with question marks" and “Leave your shoes at your door, along with all your troubles”. It could be a playful song about finding an identity or just being intimate with someone, but the mystery is all apart of its magic. 9.0
7. Lance Jr.
This track, in a production sense, falls into the same trance as the first few songs of the album. The raw guitar is reminiscent of Nirvana and the percussion lags behind. They are hilarious: “I masturbated to the songs you wrote /Resuscitated all of my hopes/ It felt wrong but it didn’t take too long/ Much appreciated are your songs”. She sings of her ex-confidant saving her money on sleeping pills. The honesty and sardonic nature is refreshing and entertaining. Barnett’s vocals drift softly as the vibrations float within the air. Barnett’s vocals are pure and absolutely breathtaking at moments on this track. 8.5
8. Are You Looking After Yourself
The bouncy guitar gives the track a western twang and Barnett’s vocals are concerned and fragile. There’s a bit of country influence on the chorus, accompanied by some very urgent vocals. The song is a dialogue between a concerned parent and Barnett. The song is cool in that the layout is a conversation between the two. The verse is the worrier, sounding subtle and cautious, while the chorus sounds manic. A hysterical guitar solo breaks out towards the end of the track that lasts for a couple minutes complimenting the lost soul of the track. 8.5
9. Scotty Says
The easy going melody and twangy guitar make the song a fun listen while the lyrics talk about a break up, starting over, and finding oneself. The chorus of the track is the real highlight, as Barnett’s vocals steer the song from ennui. “I got lost somewhere between here”, Barnett coos intensely, but the cry sounds less literal, trying to pin point her lack of self and misplaced mindset. That line packs a punch with the conviction Barnett sings it with. Aside from that one fleeting moment, the song lacks any true staying power. 6.0
10. Canned Tomatoes (Whole)
Barnett has effortlessly made lazy vocals and easygoing melody gems on this album, but this song has a protracted start that is unnecessary, fooling one into thinking that the build up will be big while Barnett’s vocals are timid and dull. The track breaks out into chaos towards the end, which seems to follow the same pattern of many tracks on the album, making it seem like an overused trick. The track doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the album and overstays its welcome towards the end. 6.0
11. Porcelain
The song opens up with a dated guitar that resonates beautifully, instilling a folk-western atmosphere. The song is slow and dilapidated as it rolls onward. The oohing and ahhing turn the track into an enchanted wild west. The piano and the guitar solo at the end are lovely and close the song out gracefully, with the only fault being that the song lags for a few minutes too long. This track should have been the dwindling outro to the album.6.5
12. Ode to Odetta
The song is a light and plain outro as Barnett sings, "Oh Odetta, Won’t you come home”, over and over until finally the song comes to an end. The song sounds unfinished and is not the best choice out of all the songs to end an album on; “Porcelain” would have been a better choice. Although it may be a pretty song, it does not give a satisfying end, but a questionable one. 6.5
Written by Margaret Farrell
Margaret Farrell is a writer from outside Chicago. She is currently a student at New York University, studying journalism and creative writing.



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