Courtney Barnett, the Melbourne indie-rock singer capable of turning such topics as real estate and elevator chitchat into droll, heartrending parables, was having trouble coming up with the follow-up to her sensational 2015 debut. Kurt Vile, the Philadelphia folkie whose free-ranging drawl and sparkling guitar lines can improve any afternoon, sent her a partly finished song. She heard it and invited him to her studio, on the other side of the world from where he was. The sessions became a tune, and then an album, of scraggly, lackadaisical, and compulsively listenable rock. The album, Lotta Sea Lice, also comments on the collaboration that birthed it—resulting in a surprisingly moving reflection on the creative process itself.
That first cut they worked on, “Over Everything,” is a career highlight for both musicians. Even before the singing begins, the guitar parts—pretty and melodic, spiraling up and down and back onto themselves—establish a sense of communion, of call and response. Vile and Barnett then trade lines that build on shared ideas but showcase two singular voices. Barnett sings of a “beautiful morning” with literary-diary specificity: “The trees are all waggin’, my hair-flag waving / The scenery ragin’, my life-love cascading.” Vile’s nice day is fuzzier, rendered both more abstract and more conversational: “When I’m outside in a real good mood,” the last two words boasting a few extra o’s.
The song is about making songs, as is much of Lotta Sea Lice. Vile spends his time alone noodling blues riffs; Barnett comes up with ditties off news headlines. Vile plugs in headphones to plug into his right brain; Barnett does the same, replying, “You could say ‘I hear you’ on several levels / at high decibels / over everything.” It’s a great line: rhythmically tricky, grounded in the straightforward conversation they’re having, yet hinting at something metaphysical, beyond hearing or saying. The song fittingly then gets noisier and wilder, heaving and collapsing around the six-minute mark.
From there, Barnett and Vile banter over various flavors of dueling guitar jangle and synth marginalia: an off-kilter drum patter and raga-like haze on “Let It Go,” strumalong road rock for “Blue Cheese,” cheery-sad acoustic testimony for “Peepin’ Tom.” The lyrical topics vary, but they seem to return to the question of how to summon the muse—though it’s hard to avoid the sense that it’s Barnett, the more magnetic presence across the album, who’s sweating the issue most. …
Source:: The Atlantic – Culture