If it seems like Courtney Barnett came out of nowhere to deliver the indie rock masterpiece of the 2010s so far, presented in the lo-fi, alternative singer/songwriter tradition established by Pavement‘s seminal 1992 album Slanted and Enchanted, it’s because she did. After releasing a slew of EPs in her native Australia, Barnett stormed on the scene in early 2015 with a stunning LP that doubles as her first international release. These days, of course, there’s not really any such thing as a non-international release, since everything winds up online anyway, but she certainly was not a known quantity outside her home country prior to the release of Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. It’s an album with a title just as defiantly cheeky as the Arctic Monkeys‘ 2006 debut Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which was the last indie rock album to come along with this kind of critical force.
As with the Arctic Monkeys’ debut, Barnett favors a loud, garage rock presentation, but the recording approach is a lot different. The charm of Slanted and Enchanted and Whatever People Say I Am was each record’s sloppy sound. While by no means polished, Sometimes I Sit and Think sounds much more precisely recorded, utilizing various Fender guitars overdriven pleasantly through tube amplifiers. Fender guitars have a distinctly lean, twangy sound, making it a popular choice among blues guitarists. (When I was a sophomore in college, I learned to play guitar on my roommate’s Stratocaster, so I can spot the Fender sound a mile away.) And there are many great touches and textures present on Sometimes I Sit and Think, from the swirling, bluesy guitar solo on “Small Poppies” to how “Debbie Downer” actually bounces (thank the Fender guitar) to the hazy, vaguely paradise feel that comes and goes throughout the record.
If I had to single out two favorite songs, I’d take the lead single “Pedestrian at Best” and the epic “Kim’s Caravan,” which slowly builds to a stunning climax. To be frank, though, every square inch of Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is a delight. Every single track is a highlight, and with each pass through the album an awareness of Barnett’s craft grows. I’m usually quite slow to pick up on lyrics, since I tend to process music quite experientially and just don’t think about the more literal aspects for a while, but Barnett really is a terrific, funny lyricist and a killer songwriting talent. And her debut is a loose, fun album to take in regardless of whatever your mood happens to be; it’s clear Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit wasn’t consciously styled as a masterwork or anything, but that didn’t stop it from turning into one anyway.