Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas

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Grade: A

In 2011 Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett released the fantastic EP I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris, then began her own label, Milk! Records, in 2012. The following year she would release the equally terrific How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose EP and would smartly decide to combine her first two EPs into The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. Somehow, someway, I knew nothing of these magical releases until about three weeks ago. Better late than never, I guess, because Barnett’s brilliant lyricism and instrumentation have renewed my faith in the songwriting of today.

The first half of the double EP is comprised of the six tracks from How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose, and it reveals Barnett to be the aloof and melancholic songstress that she is. So many of the songs come off as rambling tales, delivered in a whimsically deadpan way that absolutely calls Dylan to mind. Maybe the best of these is “Avant Gardener”, which starts off as the retelling of her Monday, and slowly detours off into directions only Barnett can probably understand, with lyrics like “Anaphylactic and super hypocondriactic/should’ve stayed in bed today”. Also attractive to the song is that while its lovely rhythm remains the same for much of its duration, squawking guitar nicely breaks up the monotony midway through.

Another great one from the first half of the album comes in “History Eraser”, a barroom tune full of lyrics just as wonderful as the drums/guitar/piano behind them. Barnett sings lovingly of being drunk in love: “We drank green margaritas/danced with sweet senoritas/and we all went home as winners of a kind.”

Then there’s “Anonymous Club”, which has Barnett’s voice at its highest, most expressive octave, and “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)”, which also offers a more melodious version of her pipes. Both songs are wonderful alternates to the slightly woozy level her voice takes on in most songs, but that’s not saying Barnett ever sounds unsatisfactory on this release. No, no – she almost always sounds entrancing.

It’s especially appealing that the two EPs segue seamlessly into each other. The I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris segment of the double EP does feel a little more lighthearted, but it’s still as exciting and rousing as the first half. It also features some tasty instrumentation, particularly in the beautiful interplay between the guitar and piano of “Porcelain”.

And so I’m really excited for future material from Barnett, and cannot wait to catch her when she comes to my neck of the woods this fall. Be sure to check her out if she ends up touring near you!

Hear “Are You Looking After Yourself” on this week’s playlist.

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