This was a surprise. An indie rock record that would have fit right at home in the 90s among the likes of Modest Mouse (y’know, before they sold out), Pavement (y’know, before they disbanded) and Liz Phair (y’know, before she sold out) … released two decades too late. Or maybe right on time. To put it another way, this is lyrical (that is to say, tuneful), lyrically smart (this should have had you from the title alone); great for the summer, great for window-gazing on streetcars as you’re wondering why you’re wasting that summer.
~The worst aspect of the energetic but ultimately forgettable “Aqua Profunda!” is its obnoxious placement on the album. You could solve this issue by removing it or removing “Boxing Day Blues” (decent ballad and nothing more, though I like the lines “I love all of your ideas/ You love the idea of me / Lover, I’ve got no idea”) and using “Depreston” as the closer. Or do both.
~”Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” is slightly better, but I feel like 50% of its goodwill comes from the title and the hook and how much I can relate. The other 50% is the guitar riff, which reminds me of the Godfathers’ “This Damn Nation.”
~I get the feeling that, like Deerhunter’s “Monomania,” “Pedestrian at Best” was chosen as a single because the guitars kick up the most ruckus. It’s too wordy to be melodic, and its impressive thicket of rhymes is definitely smart (ie. Rhyming “cyanide” with “diatribe”), but sometimes – mostly, actually – smart in a flashy way (ie. “I must confess, I’ve made a mess of what should be a small success / But I digress, at least I’ve tried my very best, I guess”, “Erroneous, harmonious, I’m hardly sanctimonious”, etc). Youtube videos tells me this song works better live.
~This is in contrast to “Dead Fox,” whose words go down easier: the entirety of the first verse (“I was a little skeptical at first / A little pesticide can’t hurt”); “Sometimes I think a single sneeze could be the end of us”; “More people die on the road than they do in the ocean / Maybe we should mull over culling cars instead of sharks.” I appreciate the attempt at backing vocals in the chorus, though they don’t add anything.
~Of the two long-players on the album, “Small Poppies” is the better one, and perhaps the only song on the album where Barnett’s backing band assert themselves as a little more than well … just her backing band. Unless that Barnett responsible for all that guitar drama, in which case, never mind.
~Tinymixtapes’ Ben Roylance: “Any song on this album could function as a funny little short story well enough, but Barnett’s band, her guitar playing, her impeccable sense for melody and consistency give her stories life beyond their quirks, beyond her strength as a chronicler of the exhausting contemporary situation, expanding them into emotional worlds unto themselves.”
Yeah, and reading some of my negative-neutral observations, you’d probably think I’d be giving this album a B+ at best, and I’m probably overrating it when I give it an A-, but “Elevator Operator” and “Depreston” are just what Ben says; like Kinks songs if Ray Davies grew up more cynical, an under-worked and over-sexed twenty-some year old in the 2010s.
Anyone rotting away in his or her cubicle ought to empathize with Oliver Paul, the main character of “Elevator Operator.” Dig the way Courtney Barnett sings the line “He screams, ‘I’m not going to work today’”; dig the detail in the lyrics, the “dropping soy linseed Vegemite crumbs everywhere”, the description of the woman beside him in the elevator (“Her heels are high and her bag is snakeskin / Hair pulled so tight you can see her skeleton”; “She looks him up and down with a botox frown”); dig the line “I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly” and how it sounds like Courtney just summed up your own life; dig his pedestrian dreams of wanting to be an elevator operator (which, by the way, isn’t that absurd – I have a coworker who wants to serve popcorn at the Air Canada Center. Stress-free, and he’d get to see a lot of concerts, he argues. He probably won’t do it in the near-future, because, y’know, money. And no one wants to go out with a thirty-year popcorn-server, I don’t think.); dig how she rhymes “insignificantly” with “clarity” and “SimCity.”
Similarly, “Depreston” is the sort of song that everyone ought to be able to relate to, detailing how Courtney Barnett and her girlfriend are looking for a place and for the life of them, cannot find one that is affordable or, y’know, livable. At every turn, Courtney tries to keep optimistic by looking on the bright side of things: saving twenty-three dollars by not buying lattes at Starbucks; “a garage for two cars to park in / Or a lot of room for storage if you’ve just got one”; “Aren’t the pressed metal ceilings great?”; just the way she fucking sings it, too. And there’s something about how she keeps that pose up even though there clearly isn’t a bright side (“a California bungalow in a cul-de-sac”) that strikes me as incredibly sad, even sadder than if she had just gone around moping the entire song about how there was nowhere to live.
~Speedy Ortiz might as well call it quits now.