Courtney Barnett is gearing up to be one of the quiet success stories of the year.
The Melbourne based singer-songwriter has been on a roll since releasing a compilation, The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas, last October and has since been generating a buzz at a series of live dates.
Her studio recordings pitch her as an anti-folk cousin of Jeffrey Lewis, the tracks being built around rambling comic narratives that detail everyday life events such as panic attacks and masturbation. Live, however, her two-piece backing band lend her a slacker quality that only sometimes hits home.
Opening track ‘David’ is a tight glam-rock stomp that sees her shaking her mop of dark hair and guitar head, part Pavement and part Joan Jett, while ‘Out Of The Woodwork’ has a gentle country rock vibe. Its arrangements are effectively a bed for her deadpan lyrics and the notion of a prose poem being given musical accompaniment is furthered on her solo encore of new track ‘Depreston’.
Basing songs around lyrics rather than structured melody lines nonetheless becomes a problem when they’re suddenly given full bloodied backing from bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mundie. ‘Lance Jnr’ and ‘Are You Looking After Yourself?’, for instance, both lack a strong enough hook to survive when her vocals have to struggle to be heard over the meandering garage rock.
It’s this uncertainty over whether to offer coffee shop alt-folk narratives or slacker-grunge that makes Barnett such a frustrating talent. ‘History Eraser’ is currently the closest she comes to a compromise between the two, with Sloane chanting the title as an off-kilter chorus while Barnett wrings out lead guitar.
A few more tracks like this and she might truly warrant the early acclaim.
Gig date: May 14