Confession time: up until very recently at Live4ever we’d barely heard of millennials, writing the word off as a glib media term used to sheep-dip millions of people around the planet into buying certain makes of computers and clothes.
In many ways they’re merely the next composite brand of youth culture, identified by this trait or that belief system, but up until now we hadn’t really detected their voice on anything much to speak of. This was before Courtney Barnett‘s ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit‘ arrived.
This isn’t any sort of denigration of millennials, their values, or the 24-year-old Australian who on this evidence has managed to distill their sense of paternalistic liberalism into the form of these 12 songs. What we do get is almost overwhelmed by happy, random feeling neuroses: within the album’s first few songs we’re presented with lyrics that talk about existentialism, inner monologues, soya mince and smoothies.
A hop, skip and a jump later and our heroine is celebrating the most pyrrhic of victories; home made Espresso saving her the “twenty three dollars a week” she would otherwise spend in the coffee houses that in fact go too far into helping to define her existence. The song that houses this reflection – ‘Depreston‘ – is a superbly crafted tale of creeping revelation for one so young, articulating the watershed moments which are the last phases of childhood slipping away.
Courtney Barnett: millennial. But also a lachrymose raconteur, a teller of stories which will do something as awkwardly naive as plucking the heartstrings one minute, then rejecting fiercely being objectified in the next. For someone who has the twenty first century’s kitchen sink dramas so affectionately charted in her prose, it’s a little odd that her music is rooted in those fuddy-duddy Gen X bands like Pavement, The Breeders and in places female Brit Poppers such as Elastica.
If this all sounds a bit open mike night at the Coffee Hut, there are also moments of real conquest, the hallucinogenic scratches and balletic tension of ‘Kim’s Caravan‘ being most prevalent amongst them, along with the recherché blues of ‘Small Poppies‘, both skeletal tales which transform her into a Melbournian Polly Harvey on a budget.
‘Sometimes I Sit..’ is one of those records which will have you grasping at thin air for comparisons, whilst itself sitting unpretentiously in the corner, a bag full of poems delivered conversationally, but still with enough melody and unassuming wit to disarm even the uncoolest amongst us.
On ‘Nobody Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party‘ we never know why, or how, or who, but the chorus sounds so diffident and confused it’s every nothing-to-wear-and-wouldn’t-wear-it-if-I-had nightmare personified. By closer ‘Boxing Day Blues‘ the smoky, acoustic guitar drawl is ready to pull the curtains closed on another personal disaster (on which she croaks a chorus of, “Lover, I’ve got no idea”), whilst the singer brews herself up a large skinny Futility-to-go.
This millennial generation are characterised by knowing what they don’t want, but like every other gone by, also by not knowing what they do. For Courtney Barnett this isn’t a problem; the ambiguity just turns itself into set pieces which hum with authenticity and pathos, all delivered by someone who vibes like she’s just got out of bed. Not walled in by any sense of expectation, ‘Sometimes I Sit..’ is good enough to be loved by you however old you are, whether you’re suited at noon or pajamed by six.