Things Take Time, Take Time

Courtney Barnett

Mom+Pop Music / Marathon, 2021

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One of the fascinating things about living through the current pandemic has been observing the range of people’s reactions to it, all the way from brain-dead denialism to paranoid freak-outs. Some people have wound themselves into tight defensive balls of one sort or another, while others have loosened up, unclenching and taking time to reassess priorities.

Count Aussie songsmith Courtney Barnett in the latter camp. After two albums full of brash, bristly, effervescently clever rock tunes, her lockdown album Things Take Time, Take Time finds Barnett treading a lighter, dreamier, more open-hearted path. She seems to have located an inner calm that was probably always there, but only emerged in her art when afforded the quiet space that lockdown offered.

In creating songs that are less manic and more vulnerable than those found on her first two albums (Sometimes I Just Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit and Tell Me How You Really Feel), Barnett somewhat contradictorily comes across as more confident and self-assured than ever. That spiky cockiness was in its own way a manifestation of insecurity—witty and endearing in the hands of a writer as gifted as Barnett, but also tending to distance her from her audience, striking an ironic tone that’s both entertaining and a shield to hide behind. It requires true confidence and self-knowledge to be genuinely open and vulnerable.

As lockdown proceeded, Barnett began developing her new songs in collaboration with longtime friend and drummer/producer Stella Mozgawa, with whom she first worked on 2017’s Kurt Vile collaboration Lotta Sea Lice. Together, the pair layered Barnett’s new works with softer, brighter tones than on her two preceding albums: Wurlitzers, drum machines, warm acoustic guitars, and sunny, layered harmonies. The results shimmer and sway and charm and beguile.

Opener “Rae Street” offers the most familiar guitar tone, a steady classicist jangle as Barnett paints a picture of domestic suburban ennui-slash-bliss that somehow manages to be both languid and pointed as ever; the guitars might not bite as hard, but the words still do. It’s brilliance of a more subtle kind, with gauzy multi-tracked vocals decorating a lyric that’s subtly subversive: “You seem so stable but you’re just hangin’ on.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The loops and drum machine beats favored by Mozgawa are even more prominent on the alternately flirtatious and thoughtful “Sunfair Sundown”; meanwhile the guitars turn distorted and dreamy as Barnett chants earnestly “I don’t want you to be alone.” “Here’s The Thing” gives an airier feel to another song written for a crush: “Here’s the thing / Can’t stop thinking about you” Barnett sings through a dreamy echo, adding that “I’m not afraid of heights / Maybe I’m just scared of falling” over warped, discordant strums that only add to the sense of floating along on the breeze of infatuation.

The second act finds Barnett shifting gears ever so slightly with the bouncier, edgier “Before You Gotta Go,” a song of stubborn devotion that’s sweet even as it narrates an ongoing spat. “Before you go, go, go / I want you to know, know, know / You’re always on my mind,” she sings, adding the wise coda “If something were to happen, my dear / I wouldn’t want the last words you hear / To be unkind.” An electronic rhythm section dominates the snaking, percussive “Turning Green,” providing a propulsive bed that brings out Barnett’s inner slam poet. Then the concise 1:51 “Taking It Day By Day” offers a bit of a throwback, a playful, prickly “hang-in-there” message to a friend featuring the pure-gold line “Don’t stick that knife in the toaster / Life is like a rollercoaster.”

And then we arrive at the beating heart of this album and one of the most straightforward and vulnerable songs Courtney Barnett has ever recorded. “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight” is an unabashed love song featuring a lush vocal arrangement, a third-degree earworm chorus, and sweetly chiming late-Beatles guitars. The lyric is simple but powerful, as direct as Barnett has ever been: “Babe, I need reminding, I got feelings too / And I tried my best to hide them / But I don't wanna hide anything from you… All my fears collided / When our mutual friend confided in me that / There's a ninety-nine percent chance that it's requited.” It’s spectacular and utterly lovely.

From there the third act shimmers wonderfully all the way to the close. First “Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To” offers a steady, gently melodic tune with tweaked guitars and what sound like sleigh bells in the rhythm section as Barnett tries to fight off depression with positive thinking. “Splendour” presents a breakup song in slow-motion melancholy, really just a 2:15 fragment, but a pungent one. “Oh The Night” closes things out with piano substituting for guitar as Barnett sings of being shy and asking her crush to find a way to meet her in the middle—"Sorry that I've been slow, you know it takes a little / Time for me to show / How I really feel.”

Things Take Time, Take Time is 34 minutes of Courtney Barnett showing us how she really feels, and it’s both authentically honest and genuinely endearing, a portrait of an artist with heart on sleeve that charms like the music box melody that embellishes its final seconds. Like a butterfly emerging from a bristly cocoon, Things Take Time, Take Time finds Courtney Barnett tearing down the walls and presenting her true self to the world, dewy and wobbly and ready to fly.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2021 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Mom+Pop Music / Marathon, and is used for informational purposes only.