Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice (Milk! / Matador / Remote Control)

- The fact that Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are friends and mutual fans of each other’s work comes as no surprise. While they each have their own distinct musical styles (her spirited and ramshackle punkiness, his spacious and leisurely rockiness), they also have enough in common that this collaboration manages to bring out the best in both performers. Even the initial announcements of this team-up didn’t evoke either surprise or accusations of predictability. Instead, the record sounds so at ease and natural, it almost feels like it’s always been with us.

One aspect that the duo share is a languid, observational tone to their vocals and lyrics. This allows the songs to unfold like half-heard or semi-remembered conversations, where you can’t quite remember if you overheard them or were an actual participant. While Barnett in particular has been known for wordplay that lodges in the brain, here the words are more like the music, evocative but dreamy. Their voices overlap throughout the record, trading memories and confessions in a deadpan and slightly dazed manner. The musical interplay between the two is similarly organic, their guitars intertwining through a blend of acoustic folk strumming, country-fied slides, and faintly psychedelic yet melodic soloing.

The song pace is more Vile than Barnett, eschewing her garage rock punchiness in favour of the mid-tempo leisure that particularly characterises Kurt. It’s a wise choice, as it gives all elements of the songs, from the lyrics to the music and the vocal duets, much more room to breathe.

As well as the pair covering one of each other’s tunes (Courtney’s Outta The Woodwork, Kurt’s Peepin’ Tomboy) and teaming up on a haunting, tender version of Belly’s Untogether, the songwriting collaborations include the outstanding singles Over Everything, world weariness spun into laid-back desert rock gold, and the sweeter, folkier Continental Breakfast. Perhaps the most instantly catchy song is Let It Go, where both do indeed “let it go” and surrender to the subtle pop charm of it all.

In fact you won’t hear a forced note or beat on the whole album. It sounds like a communal group of friends jamming out the tunes on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The likes of Mick Harvey and Jim White are among the guests, but it’s Kurt and Courtney’s party. And they are the most generous hosts you could hope for.

- Matt Thrower.

Album Details

Album Title: Lotta Sea Lice
Artist: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Record Label: (Milk! / Matador / Remote Control)