Album of the Week: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Thursday, February 22nd, 2024  

Album of the Week: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

Lotta Sea Lice Out Now via Matador

Oct 13, 2017 Kurt Vile Bookmark and Share

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When news first broke that Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett were teaming up for a collaborative project, it was met with an unusually high amount of excitement. The last few years have seen dozens of reunions, team-ups and supergroups in the indie world, some of them good, most of them completely missable; yet even those who know the bare minimum about these two artists could see them for an unnaturally easy pair. Both musicians have distinct guitar-playing styles, a poet’s eye for the details of everyday life, and a conversational, casual singing voice. They have their differences too, but for the most part their musical companionship is accurately depicted on the cover for their excellent new project, Lotta Sea Lice: friendly mirror images of one another.

Everything about Lotta Sea Lice suggests the ease with which Kurt and Courtney get along. Opening track (and one of the best songs of the year) “Over Everything” sets the perfect stage; they trade verses that literally sound like a conversation about making music together, giving each other time for guitar solos and occasionally harmonizing. It’s complete bliss. In one line, Vile describes taking refuge from darkness: “When I’m outside in a real good mood/You could almost forget about all the other things/Like a big old ominous cloud in my periphery.” This album is what it’s like to be outside in a real good mood. As the album plays, it’s hard not to picture the pair just hanging out and letting the music come out naturally. Even the tracklist has a jam-session feel: five originals, four covers. One, the electric “Fear is Like a Forest,” is originally by Barnett’s wife Jen Cloher. Another, the closer “Untogether,” is a charmingly understated 1993 cut by Belly. Then, in the ultimate buddy move, they cover each other’s songs, with Vile taking on Barnett’s rambling, bitingly downcast “Outta the Woodwork” and Barnett doing a gorgeously heartfelt solo take on Vile’s “Peepin’ Tomboy” (renamed “Peepin’ Tom”). Both artists may be known for their deadpan, sardonic musings, but there’s not a single moment on Lotta Sea Lice that’s not heartfelt. Look no further than the video for “Continental Breakfast,” a beautiful and gentle ode to both solitude and long-distance friendships. In the clip, we see home video of Vile and Barnett in their respective homes with their families. It bursts with affection, a feeling that proliferates the entirety of Lotta Sea Lice.

Musically, this hews far closer to Vile’s dreamy territory than Barnett’s punchier style. Significant stretches sound like Barnett singing lead over new Kurt Vile music, which is in no way a bad thing. In fact, the artists highlight each other’s differences. Vile brings out more of Barnett’s loose, jammy side (think “Small Poppies” and “Kim’s Caravan”), and Barnett helps ground some of Vile’s up-in-the-clouds tendencies. It’s a relief to know that these are both artists who don’t get too fussy in the studio. Complete with funny alt-country goof-offs like “Blue Cheese” (including “woo-hoos!,” “nanny-nanny-boo-boos” and a mumbled “here comes the Lone Ranger”), it’s all so lovingly shambolic.

Other great albums are out today, like the sharp, anxious MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent and Archy Marshall’s sublime return as King Krule (with The OOZ). But Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s team-up is our Album of the Week because of expectations met. Because it’s a reminder that sometimes things turn out better than expected. It’s a reminder of the uplifting nature of real friendship. In 2017, there are a lot of dark clouds on our periphery, but Lotta Sea Lice reminds us that we can go outside and put in the headphones, and it can be okay.

Also read our review of Lotta Sea Lice.

Read our 2015 interview with Kurt Vile about b’lieve i’m goin down.

Also read our joint interview between Courtney Barnett and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, from our Best of 2015 issue.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Tour Dates:
10/14 - Los Angeles, CA - The Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Church (SOLD OUT)
10/15 - Los Angeles, CA - Orpheum Theatre
10/18 - Oakland, CA - Fox Theatre
10/20 - Portland, OR - Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
10/21 - Seattle, WA - Moore Theatre (SOLD OUT)
10/22 - Seattle, WA - The Showbox (SOLD OUT)
10/25 - St. Paul, MN - Palace Theatre (SOLD OUT)
10/26 - Chicago, IL - Rockefeller Chapel (SOLD OUT)
10/27 - Chicago, IL - Thalia Hall (SOLD OUT)
10/28 - Chicago, IL - Empty Bottle (SOLD OUT)
10/30 - Royal Oak, MI - Royal Oak Music Theatre
10/31 - Toronto, Ontario - Massey Hall
11/01 - New York, NY - Beacon Theatre (SOLD OUT)
11/03 - Upper Darby, PA - Tower Theatre
11/04 - Boston, MA - Orpheum Theatre
11/06 - Loew’s Jersey Theatre - Jersey City, NJ
11/07 - The Anthem - Washington, DC
11/09 - Nashville, TN - Ryman Auditorium
11/10 - Dallas, TX - McFarlin Memorial Auditorium
11/11 - Austin, TX - ACL Live at the Moody Theater (SOLD OUT)
Album of the Week Runner-ups (Also Released This Week):
A. Savage: Thawing Dawn (Dull Tools)
Beck: Colors (Capitol)
King Krule: The Ooz (True Panther)
St. Vincent: MASSEDUCTION (Loma Vista)
Stars: There Is No Love In Fluorescent Light (Last Gang/eOne)
Tegan and Sara: The Con X: Covers (Warner Bros.)

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