Courtney Barnett is the quotidian lyricist our generation needs, although we certainly don’t deserve her. With deadpan wit and rambling, 1990s grunge-soaked style, Australian singer-songwriter Barnett captures everyday life in “Depreston,” the first single off of her debut rollicking full-length album “Sometimes I Sit, and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit.” Unlike the over-produced, over-synthesized, overly thought out bubblegum pop and hedonistic rap ruling the charts, “Sit” meditates on the mundane and finds humor in the everyday. Barnett’s signature stream-of-consciousness talk-singing and deadpan observations come as a breath of fresh air to the 2015 music scene and have already labeled her is Pitchfork’s — and therefore alternative music’s — newest darling. With “Depreston” and the rest of the album “Sit,” Barnett reveals that the wandering mind has a lot to tell you and that opening your eyes shows you even more.
Each track of “Sit,” beginning with “Depreston,” is geometrically constructed through a series of everyday vignettes that are dually ordinary and, when broken down by Barnett’s voice, extraordinary. “Sit” opens with “Depreston,” a folksy ballad about a couple house-hunting in the suburbs. From the first line, “Depreston” places the listener in the car next to the anonymous couple as they tour house after house, debating wood paneling and renovation prices of cookie-cutter suburban homes. Barnett’s central guitar riff guides the threesome — the couple and the uninvited but intentionally inserted listener — through both the wasteland of suburbia and the track’s background noise.
As with nearly all of her songs, Barnett is simultaneously an omniscient observer and a key actor in “Depreston.” Her looseness with perspective, she sings from within the story and outside of it entirely, changes “Depreston’s” mundane house-hunting tale into a cheery nihilistic comment on time and priorities in day-to-day life. Barnett painstakingly recounts the details of an unimpressive “California bungalow in a cul-du-sac,” capturing every moment and feature of the tour with kaleidoscopic narration. In contrast with any current top 40 song, “Depreston” meditates on fleeting moments and the little things in life, not on drugs, sex and money. Through clever lyrics and Barnett’s signature nonchalance and off-beat looseness, “Depreston” wittily breaks down life into tiny details and unconsciously implores the listener to do the same.
By deconstructing the visual world into basic elements such as “the handrail in the shower” and “ a collection of those canisters for coffee, tea or flour,” Barnett dually reveals the importance people place on such trivial things as well as how fundamentally unimportant they are in a world that is always changing. Barnett’s witty, yet insightful lyricism even extends to the song’s title, which is a combination of ‘depressing’ and ‘Preston,’ the town where the two are looking at houses. With this funny play on words, Barnett conveys the sadness of moving from one stage and locality of life — being young and living in the city — to another, embodied by the suburbs.
The music video for “Depreston” visualizes Barnett’s whimsical stream-of-consciousness style and drives her point about the pointlessness of attachment and transitory nature of life home. As Barnett hits the opening riff, the video opens to three simultaneous feeds of Californian suburbia: one from the front of a car, one looking out of the left window and the other looking out of the right. Although presumably filmed from the same car driving down the street, each feed presents a different perspective of the passing one-story houses and palm trees. The continual stream of images optically mirrors those created by Barnett’s free association lyricism in “Depreston,” as well as the other songs on the album “Sit.” The fact that the camera is always moving also reflects how we as people are always moving, both figuratively and literally as in “Depreston,” and changing as time goes on. We are not assaulted with bright lights or fantastical lands or outlandish outfits, we are simply invited to watch the world go by.
Watching the sun-soaked California neighborhoods whose lovely gardens and two-door garages match Barnett’s descriptions roll by, I can’t shake the sense that none of this — the scenery, the car, the houses with two-door garages and nice gardens— really matters. Barnett’s chorus and closing line says it all: “if you’ve got a spare half a million/we could knock it down and start rebuildin’.” Sure, all of these houses are here now, but just like everything else they will change with time. Moral of “Depreston:” enjoy the view and the little things, but don’t become too attached, for you never know when you’ll want to “knock it down and start rebuildin’.” In an era of materialism and 24/7 busyness, “Depreston” may just have something big to say.