The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
She sings about not remembering the best songs she wrote, she name-drops The Triffids and pseudoephedrine – she’s writing wry, almost without trying, you’ll think of Sharon Van Etten and the early, vital Liz Phair, of the funniest and best Pavement songs, and on the wonderful Avant Gardener, it’s as if Girls’ Lena Dunham has been recast as an unemployed antipodean, prone to panic attacks after starting out the day with the best intentions of having a go at a bit of pruning. First times being, as they are, for everything.
This is Courtney Barnett, a 24 year old Australian singer/songwriter – and while the world is starting to crow about her, and rightly, I’ve scarcely seen a mention of her in New Zealand. Odd, really, given Avant Gardener has something of the sound you might imagine if the Liz Phair of those first two, great records and the Adam Green of Mouldy Peaches teamed to rewrite The Clean’s Anything Could Happen.
Actually, almost everything happens on this Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, including confessionals about masturbating to shitty songs just to fall asleep because, hey, it’s cheaper (and easier) than Temazepam.
These hooky, kooky, happy-sounding, smart-alec songs are filled with great lyrical ideas, and the curl of the guitar lines will remind you of all those great acts from the 90s you still revisit, Tanya Donnelly and Kristin Hersh’s records – across various guises, the early PJ Harvey albums (heck, all the PJ Harvey albums), Pavement and a few Flying Nun things too.
There’s a prod in the direction of a Pixies bassline on Scotty Says, but then it falls away into a lo-fi groove and another po-faced story of being lost “somewhere between here and there” and on the slow, scorched country-tempo Porcelain Barnett shows not everything has to be smart-alec/ish. There’s an Ode to Odetta and several other hints at a well-studied set of musical influences. The mid-album epic, Are You Looking After Yourself might be a direct transcription of a phone call from her parents, it’s a love-letter too to stepping out of the 9-5 circuit, backing yourself, working hard to appear as if you’re hardly working, backing yourself to have the talent. (That is, if you have the talent…and clearly she does).
Barnett’s first full-lengther feels like something a more established artist might still be striving for – it has dry humour and self-effacement, but it has so much heart and soul to it. And though the lyrics are what continue to pull you in – so much to hear, new favourite lines each time – it’s the way it’s all been married up to crafty, song-slivers, tunes that hint you might have heard them before, but never come close to ripping anything off directly. And it’s all told in a voice so believable, a voice capable – as on Anonymous Club – of being the sound of urban ennui and throwback to lonely, lovely torch-singer too.
A Sea of Split Peas is my new favourite record. I’m glad I got to it. You gotta seek this out. It’s so very good.