It’s easy to read the rapid sequence of nervous utterances in Courtney Barnett‘s “Pedestrian At Best” as the Australian singer/songwriter’s own anxious thought process about the potential pitfalls of being bestowed the kind of expectations that come with being a critical darling. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in 2013 when Barnett released her excellent single “Avant Gardener,” wherein she recounts the indignity of being on the business end of an allergy attack over a lightly psychedelic groove. That very same neurotic charm is at the heart of “Pedestrian At Best,” but her approach is much different this time, spouting one insecurity after another like some kind of semi-automatic anxiety machine. Were the song not so damn fun, it might come across a little unsettling.
Oh, but it’s definitely fun. And loud — garagey without sounding vintage, the track explodes with distortion and feedback as Barnett plays a record-speed game of wack-a-mole with those nagging, negative thoughts that keep ascending from their cubbie. Her sing-speak is almost like a punk rock nursery rhyme as she bounces from “I must confess I’ve made a mess of what should be a small success… I’ve tried my very best I guess” to “this, that, the other, why even bother?” And like so many punk rock heroes before her, she gets out that negative energy with one corker of a rock song, which climaxes in a satisfying nose-thumbing to whoever happens to interrupt this cranial Nor’easter: “I think you’re a joke, but I don’t find you very funny.”
What could have been, in lesser hands, an unfun festival of mope ends up being something more like a celebration than a lament. Courtney Barnett has it figured out: Sometimes you just need to say, “Fuck it,” and let the power chords be your therapy.[from Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, out March 24; Mom + Pop]
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.