Lotta Sea Lice
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Lotta Sea Lice

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, two of the most acclaimed and gifted songwriters of our generation have joined forces to release a collaboration as unique and unusual as their talents, in the form of a brand new album Lotta Sea Lice.

In Lotta Sea Lice Barnett and Vile have delivered something utterly unpredictable and original - an instant-classic record which sounds as if the two have played together for decades, completely organic and candid. This is a conversation between friends, documented in raw, unvarnished song form, brimming with personal history, crackling with energy and shot through with humour. There’s an unforced ease to the record, helped by the fact that the pair have been not just friends, but hardcore fans of each other’s work for years, and have also roped in colleagues such as Mick Thomas and Jim White of the Dirty Three, Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint and even Mick Harvey to play.

The shared chemistry is immediately apparent in the breathtaking jam of opener and first single ‘Over Everything’, with dovetailing vocal lines and intricate, shimmering guitar stylings from the pair. The lyrics play out as a rambling dialogue as they compare notes about song-writing and inspiration - it was the first song written for this project. Other tracks including the bluesy ‘Let it Go’, which itself was inspired by texts and emails between the duo, and the drop dead gorgeous ‘Continental Breakfast', which showcases a more melodic side as the two harmonise over finger-picked acoustic guitars.

There are even more surprises in store, however, when the pair tackle each other’s tracks, with Vile delivering a delicious, souped-up version of ‘Outta the Woodwork’ backed by Barnett herself, and Barnett taking on Vile’s ‘Peepin’ Tomboy' completely solo, to spine tingling results. The overall effect is that of Barnett and Vile throwing open the doors to their house to listeners - this is certainly Courtney and Kurt’s party alright, but this time, everyone is invited.

Review

‘I cherish my intercontinental friendships…’ Australian indie-rock sensation Courtney Barnett croons on ‘Continental Breakfast’ – moments later American spacey-rock sensation Kurt Vile adds, ‘Somewhere on the sphere around here.’ It’s a song that aptly transports the listener into the bond between musicians whose respective lives are lived on opposite sides of the world, but who share absurd experiences of fame and life on the road.

The process of writing Lotta Sea Lice began when Vile wrote a song with Barnett’s voice in mind. An email exchange ensued, followed by an exchange of songs, and thus began the low-key collaboration that would become a record comprised of covers and originals. Thoughtful instrumentation, paired with Vile’s trademark laconic delivery and Barnett’s wry observations, give the album a hazy summery atmosphere. Moments in Lotta Sea Lice have shades of Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Blood on the Tracks-era Bob Dylan, especially on ‘Untogether’, a wistful but sardonic heartbreak song delivered on a wave of slide guitar. Standout tracks are ‘She’s so Easy’ and a brilliant cover of Jen Cloher’s ‘Fear Is Like a Forest’ – a tense and haunting interpretation that diversifies the tone of this otherwise overly cruisy record.

Along with contributions from Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney), Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) and Rob Laakso (Swirlies and The Violators), Jim White and Mick Turner, this collaboration between Vile and Barnett just makes perfect sense. These nine songs demonstrate their strength to move within their wheelhouse – deadpan storytelling, witty streams of conciousness, prodigious guitar playing, and effortlessly well-crafted rock songs.


Pia Spreadborough works as a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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