Album Review: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

By on Wednesday, 22nd November 2017 at 12:00 pm

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice album coverWhen two artists collaborate, the air of expectation can often kill the project before it’s even landed, especially when it comes to two of music’s most coolly laidback songwriters, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. The waves they’ve made separately have been tremendous, bringing the art of songwriting to the modern age with a feeling of ease. So the idea of them collaborating is almost too much to bear. Now that it’s here, we can finally unpack what they’ve given us.

Let’s face it, there was never going to be any form of groundbreaking EDM mixup collab featured throughout. Instead we find two minds that manage to bring out the inane and give it an acoustic tinge. Even from the first strum, a cool wave washes over you, as you wait for the journey to take you away.

Album opener ‘Over Everything’ is a track that finds its origins from Vile writing from the perspective of Barnett. The words perfectly set the scene, conveying the collective mindset of its makers with the immortal opening line of “when I’m all alone on my own by my lonesome” that truly encapsulates the life of two of modern music’s greatest songwriters. It doesn’t all quite stay so immediately breezy though. ‘Let It Go’ opts for a far more wandering and less direct approach. The intricately picked guitars entwine while Vile and Barnett take turns. There’s no real latch point that makes it less approachable, but there’s still a light energy about it that keeps you involved.

In stark contrast, the laughter that introduces ‘Fear is Like a Forest’ indicates a serious change in tone. While the actual track doesn’t really correspond with the jubilant entrance, the darkened nature mirrors the depth within the minds of the creators. Likewise, ‘Outta the Woodwork’, a cover of Barnett’s original interpreted by Vile, keeps along the darker edge, feeling entirely bluesy. However, once the two artists’ vocals pair up in the faint chorus, with their trademark lazy feel, it goes from feeling driven by emotion to a clumsy amalgamation of their talents.

Dissecting the minds of two revered songwriters is a task that could require many an essay, especially two like Barnett and Vile who seemingly see foolishness as a representation of the pitfalls of life. ‘Continental Breakfast’, for example, perfectly portrays the life both have undertaken. While they’re both heading toward their own end, they somehow come together to form a perfectly melodic account, placing you in the middle of these two journeys. One of the more intriguing moments comes from ‘On Script’. It’s another slow, blues-tinged number, but constantly feels like it’s heading to something more. On the verge of exploring even deeper territory, and while there is somewhat of a crescendo to get lost in, the fact it never truly delivers on this teased promise means you’re kept hanging on for more.

If ‘On Script’ was intriguing, then ‘Blue Cheese’ is straight up mind-boggling. Everything about it seems perfect, all the bricks are there for a solid track until you hone in and listen to the lyrics. That’s when you hear what is tantamount to nonsense (see: “now I’m calling the cops on you, nanny nanny boo boo”). Still, there’s an affection you can’t help but feel, and there’s nothing but positivity radiating from it. ‘Peepin’ Tom’, a Barnett solo over of the Vile original ‘Peepin’ Tomboy’, is exactly what a cover should be: a fresh interpretation of a track that means something to the covering artist. Light and stocked with a subtle power, be prepared to make a difficult choice on which is better, the original or this fantastic cover.

Closing the album is another cover, this time pretty unexpected. It’s a cover of dream pop band Belly’s track ‘Untogether’. A perfectly apt closer, it brings both voices together in unison, with the addition of chords that echo the dream haze from the original, it’s equal ground that truly show’s off the talents of these two great modern songwriters. ‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is a rare album that holds itself close whilst seemingly giving everything away. Just as confusing, and precious, as you’d expect anything from them both to be.


‘Lotta Sea Lice’ is out now on Matador Records. Learn more about the collaborating pair on their Web site. To read TGTF’s past coverage on Courtney Barnett, follow this link.

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