“I got drunk and fell asleep atop the sheets, but luckily I left the heater on,” sings Courtney Barnett on “History Eraser”, the best track off of her double EP, A Sea of Split Peas. It’s the kind of comment that sounds offhand, not even something you’d text a friend, let alone write a song about. Yet, the way this Australian singer-songwriter lets the words lazily saunter out of her mouth somehow has you hanging on every syllable. Her deft ability to transform the mundane into the captivating takes a page from some of Alex Turner’s early gems, and also a few of Jens Lekman’s — but where Turner and Lekman roll up their sleeves looking for an adventure, Barnett barely has the energy to leave the couch. It’s somewhat surprising then, that in between the cushions she’s managed to pull out such a thoroughly enjoyable collection.
She does it again on “Avant Gardner”, unspooling the tale of a failed attempt at gardening that ends up with her in the backseat of an ambulance (“The paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cause I play guitar/ I think she’s clever ‘cause she stops people dying”). Everything from the cheeky, longwinded album title to the completely random, tennis-themed “Avant Gardner” music video highlights Barnett’s biggest strength: her ability to channel the hilariously uncool. In this sense, her lackadaisical post-punk instrumentation and virtually non-existent vocal range actually work to her advantage.
Some cuts do miss the mark, most notably the aimless “Porcelain”, which overstays its welcome by about three minutes, and failed Yo La Tengo tribute “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)”. But, by and large, this refreshing take on slacker chic makes A Sea of Split Peas a resounding success, and positions Barnett amongst a crop of bright young songwriters.
Essential Tracks: “History Eraser”, “Avant Gardner”, and “Are You Looking After Yourself”