How can something so small and specific sound so huge? A week after Kendrick Lamar made a grand, sprawling, uncompromising album about what it means to be black in America, here comes Courtney Barnett with an album of songs about looking at roadkill or trying to decide whether you want to go out tonight. It’s all nuance and detail, and the grand pronouncements come off like offhand shrugs. Courtney Barnett isn’t trying to tell us how the world works; she’s just trying to figure her own shit out. And yet Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit feels like every bit the writerly triumph that To Pimp A Butterfly is.
It’s a specificity thing. Barnett doesn’t speak in riddles. She finds room in her lyrics for all these minute, concrete, important little touches. And even if they mean nothing to you — even if the reality of being a musician in Australia in your mid-twenties is light years removed from your life — there are feelings in there that translate, and project, and rattle around in your heart anyway. A lot of the sneaky-best songwriters work that way. Jarvis Cocker built a generation-defining pop epic out of an awkward trip to the supermarket. The Dismemberment Plan’s Travis Morrison wrote another one about being drunk and alone and regretful and too far from your hometown on New Year’s Eve. Sometimes I Think is an album full of songs like that — finely observed short stories that resonate because they’re so short and so finely observed.