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May 2019
Review

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice

Barnett and Vile have created something which both lives up to and confounds expectations.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile - Lotta Sea Lice
Published: 9:11 pm, October 11, 2017
Barnett and Vile have created something which both lives up to and confounds expectations.

Label: Marathon Artists/ Matador/ Milk! Recordings/ Mom & Pop
Released: 13th October 2017
Rating: ★★★★

Given the not-exactly-frantic pace of the pair’s own output - Kurt Vile’s drawling, ragged jams; Courtney Barnett’s shaggy-dog rambles - their songs frequently stretching out over 6 to 7 minute chunks of wax, you’d be forgiven for expecting their collaboration on ‘Lotta Sea Lice’ - backed by members of the Dirty Three and Warpaint and former Bad Seed Mick Harvey - to be a near-horizontally slack alliance, barely able to pull itself together enough to hit record.

But it’s obvious from ‘Over Everything’ - the first song to come out of the pairing - that the partnership is a fruitful one. While the song lopes along as sunnily as you might expect, the two trade tips on songwriting habits - “I speed-read the morning news and come up with my own little song” - and whether it’s a good idea to wear earplugs (hint: yes). Even the extended outro noodles never quite lose focus nor outstay their welcome.

And ‘welcome’ is the right word for an album like this: open-hearted and warm, with charm to spare. The two’s mutual admiration hits you straight away - Vile has called Barnett’s ‘Depreston’ an “instant classic” (he’s not wrong), while Courtney has said working with Kurt pulled her out of a songwriting rut. Their hometowns might be 10,000 miles apart but there’s a clear kinship which makes songs like ‘Let It Go’ - written by Barnett after Vile sent her ‘Over Everything’ - such a balm, and lifts the breezy, but slight ‘Blue Cheese’ out of throwaway territory.

There are slightly mixed results when the pair cover each other: Vile’s ‘Outta The Woodwork’ sheds the haunted, desperate feel for a ponderous country-blues, losing something in the process, but Barnett’s ‘Peepin’ Tom’ takes the same tumbling guitar figures as the original but piles on fragility.

But on the likes of ‘On Script’ - a fuzzy crawl, led by Barnett, about breaking cycles of negative behaviour, and particularly their duet on a cover of Belly’s gorgeous, resignatory ‘Untogether’ - wistful, with sleepy, sighing pedal steel - Barnett and Vile have created something which both lives up to and confounds expectations. Rob Mesure

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