What does Courtney Barnett, an artist who has built a phenomenal career out of making the mundane details seem whimsical, do when a global pandemic means those mundane details are all she sees?
She sits, and she thrives.
“I’m just waiting for the day to become night,” she sings over the rolling, sweltering ‘Rae Street’, the opener to her third album Things Take Time, Take Time. It’s a song sung from a quiet vantage point, as Barnett peers down at a cul-de-sac and beyond. Of course, what’s beyond wasn’t too different – we were all stuck inside over the past two years.
But while the rest of the world was thrust into chaos, Courtney Barnett seems to have reached a new sense of calm – if only for a moment. Her debut album, 2015’s Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, was rife with frantic energy, self-doubt and being overwhelmed by the world around her. 2018’s follow-up Tell Me How You Really Feel was grungy and gritty, as Barnett wrestled with her unshakable anger and sadness. But on Things Take Time, Take Time, Barnett seems to have accepted that what will be, will be.
There are plenty of moments on this album where Barnett ponders life itself. On the deceptively jaunty ‘Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To’, she’s content as she sings “A baby is born/As a man lay dying/And so on it goes.” On the uncharacteristically energetic ‘Turning Green’, she confronts you with the stream-roller of change: “The trees are turning green/And this springtime lethargy is kinda forcing you to see flowers in the weeds.” Barnett feels awoken and enlightened, her eyes bright to the fact that reality can be bleak.
That bleakness used to scare Barnett, if albums one and two are anything to go by, and fear does still permeate Things Take Time, Take Time. Over the slow burn of ‘Here’s The Thing’, she sings about her breakneck devotion and her resistance to contact someone in case she annoys them; thus breeding insecurity. Even on album standout ‘If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight’, she still second-guesses herself despite the “99% chance” that her love for someone is indeed mutual. Old habits die hard, after all.
But the doom of albums one and two, and even her earlier EPs, has vanished, and her music is a reflection of that. Gone are the crunchy guitars and fuzzy, screaming vocals – now she’s noticing the value of white space. Courtney Barnett’s music is so singular to her that she doesn’t need to do a lot to command attention – it comes naturally.
She still recognises what’s going on in the world – “sit beside me we’ll watch the world burn/We’ll never learn we don’t deserve nice things” – but it doesn’t consume her anymore. If we go back to that window perched over the cul-de-sac, Barnett sings, “All our candles, hopes and prayers/Though well-meanin’ they don’t mean a thing/Unless we see some change/I might change my sheets today.”
Courtney Barnett is keeping switched on, but she’s taking care of herself too. She could probably perch herself above that cul-de-sac for eternity, her mind spiralling between half-done to-do lists and heart-wrenching tragedy. But, in 2021, she knows that she’ll always be able to bring herself back down to earth. Having her feet rooted to the ground by way of lockdown and quarantines could’ve stifled her, but instead, she’s blooming.
Barnett will be taking the album on the road with her across four dates in 2022.