Music Review: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

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Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

Lotta Sea Lice

[Matador; 2017]

Rating: 4/5

Collaboration is a vital element of rap music. Whether to further affirm the friendship between a pair of MCs or to simply reap the benefits of two lucrative rappers’ combined star power, hip-hop frequently revels in the camaraderie of a shared bill. But in rock & roll, artist alliances are far more precarious: so fine and capricious is the line between genuine artistic symbiosis and insipid, money-hungry tripe. The hit-to-miss ratio is, on the other hand, a bit more stable and even, though the collaborative failures are often more conspicuous and lurid than the successes. For every Scott Walker/Sunn O))) pairing, there’s Santana ft. Rob Thomas. For every St. Vincent/David Byrne portmanteau, we get a Lulu. On Lotta Sea Lice, however, the not-so-unlikely duo of Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett transcend the superficiality and contrivance of an indie-rock tag team, as they lend each other their stylistic strengths while simultaneously showcasing their individual musical faculties.

A born-and-bred banjo plucker, Kurt Vile’s finger-picking guitar mastery drives the tracks “Continental Breakfast” and “Peepin’ Tom” while also rising and subsiding to fit his and Barnett’s voices. Swelling during Barnett’s vocal interstices only to diminish at the verses, Vile, on “Tom,” borrows from her affinity for subtle dynamics in an act of reciprocal imitation that abounds on Sea Lice. By the album’s closer “Untogether,” Kurt has adopted his Aussie counterpart’s understated clawhammer strumming style. Barnett, likewise, tempers her verbose internal-rhyming lyricism to match Kurt’s comparatively economical linguistics. On “Let It Go,” Barnett elongates each syllable in her meter, unused to fitting so few words into a single line. And covering her partner Jen Cloher’s “Fear Is Like a Forest,” Barnett is again charged with the task of reining in her loquacious proclivities. It’s perhaps a concession in some respects, but Barnett, like Vile, explores these uncharted artistic territories with alacrity and aplomb on Lotta Sea Lice.

Often with duets, each vocalist sounds poised and on their mark, waiting avariciously to jump at their allotted verse and bask in their share of the spotlight. But on Sea Lice, Kurt and Courtney are endearingly shiftless and self-effacing, singing as if they have to be coerced like sedated show animals to hit their vocal cues. As the two swap lines on “Let It Go,” neither is vying for our attention, opting instead to attack each couplet by feel rather than calculation. Moreover, the duo’s languor emanates from a place of mutual respect and insouciance. But that’s not to say that the pair treat the collaborative nature of the album as infra dignitatem; their trademark laxness engenders an easygoing air of comfort in their rapport and instills a sense of calm as Barnett and Vile traverse themes of ennui, undesirably casual relationships, and, as they themselves put it, “intercontinental friendships.”

Droves of indie singers have strived to appear aggressively lethargic ever since Pavement weaponized slackerdom in the mid-90s, but few are as convincing in their sangfroid as Kurt Vile or Courtney Barnett. Whether performing as solo artists or collaborating, Barnett and Vile relish the looseness of rock & roll, never taking themselves too seriously, yet often crafting enthralling songs all the same. And while the album isn’t exactly synergistic in its coupling of the two singers — neither Kurt nor Courtney achieve their lyrical or musical apex here — Lotta Sea Lice nevertheless intimates an unrelenting kinship between its two auteurs. As Courtney explains on “Over Everything,” “You could say I hear you on several levels at high decibels/ Over everything.”

Stream Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice

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Despite geographical distance, the partnership of Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett always made a ton of sense. Here are two indie darlings regularly praised for similar things, whether it be their affable and sardonic stoner-rock dispositions or their individual styles as guitarists. And the resulting collaborative album, Lotta Sea Lice, turns out to be exactly … More »

Watch Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Play Two Songs On KCRW

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Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s Lotta Sea Lice is our reigning Album Of The Week, and today, both of them made their live radio debut on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. They performed “Over Everything” and “Blue Cheese” off of the LP, and you can watch below. More »

Album Of The Week: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice

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A working theory: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile recorded a whole album together mostly just so they’d have an excuse to hang out. It’s hard having friends who live in different parts of the world, friends you might see once or twice a year if you’re lucky. Barnett sings about just that on the new … More »

The 5 Best Videos Of The Week

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It’s not on this list, but “Hi Bish” — the new video from Bhad Bhabie, née Danielle Bregoli, née “Cash Me Ousside” girl — fucking rules. She sits in the back of a white convertible, which is being pulled by a while horse, which is in turn being led by a leather gimp. More »

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – “Continental Breakfast” Video

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In a few weeks, the shambling master songwriters Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett will release their new collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice. And after dropping a video for lead single “Over Everything,” they’ve just shared another clip for a new one called “Continental Breakfast.” The song is an unrushed, unforced stunner, a twinkly … More »

The 5 Best Songs Of The Week

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The world moves on, another week, another column. Yes, friends, as we head into Labor Day Weekend, we present to you our latest edition of of 5 Best Songs. And no, ya gurl did not make the cut. Who knows, though? Maybe at some point TayCorp will deliver a second single off Reputation. Stranger … More »

The 5 Best Videos Of The Week

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This past Sunday, MTV aired its annual Video Music Awards. I didn’t watch the show. Neither, probably, did you. Game Of Thrones absolutely fucking annihilated the show in the ratings, proving conclusively that people care more about zombie ice dragons than they do about music videos. (I am among those people. I watched Game Of … More »

Courtney Barnett Tells Us ‘How To Boil an Egg’ in a New Track [Stream]

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While we wait on news about a new album from Courtney Barnett (word on the street is that she is hunkered down in some studio somewhere with Kurt Vile right now), the Australian folk hero has dropped new track “How To Boil An Egg” to appease our ears. The jaunty little number is from 12-track compilation album Split Singles Club, a collaborative release from Barnett’s own Milk! Records and another Melbourne indie label, Bedroom Suck.

Like some country dance hall hit, Barnett’s signature Aussie drawl crawls all over the twang of guitars, up-tempo bass, and energetic clash of symbols. It’s an upbeat, if not gritty, knee-slapping tune, but the lyrics offer a contradictory tone. Barnett’s melancholy seeps into lines like “Every morning I feel more useless than before/Trying hard to see the point in anything at all” and “Pull yourself together, pick myself apart/Nothing lasts for never, so be still my bleeding heart,” which undercut the sun-kissed, easy going tune, and speak instead to isolated stasis and the guilt in depression.

The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter is working on new material, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for something soon.

Watch Courney Barnett Cover “Drunk On Election Night”

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BYRON BAY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24:  Courtney Barnett performs during Splendour in the Grass 2016 on July 24, 2016 in Byron Bay, Australia.  (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)Just as the grim election results were becoming apparent last night, Courtney Barnett played a show in Denver at the Ogden Theater, and she closed out the night with a cover of Dan Kelly & the Alpha Males’ “Drunk On Election Night” from their 2006 album Drowning In The Fountain Of Youth. Watch video … More »