Courtney Barnett has become a leading artist across genres after her debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was released in March of 2015. This release gave the world a taste of her talent for writing hypnotic guitar riffs and enticing lyrics that effortlessly fall off the tongue. These abilities landed her a nomination for Best New Artist in the 58th Annual Grammy Awards, and prompted NPR to name her the greatest lyricist in rock right now.
After a few tours and festival appearances, Barnett became acquainted with indie singer- songwriter Kurt Vile. Vile is best known for being the founding guitarist in The War on Drugs. He eventually started writing his own lo-fi bedroom tunes and released his first solo album, Constant Hitmaker, in 2008.
In 2015 after meeting while on the festival circuit, Vile wrote “Over Everything,” specifically for Barnett, and told Rolling Stone he had imagined singing it with her. After that, the two began communicating via e-mail and skype, sending each other half-songs, bouncing ideas around. They did a few renditions of songs, wrote some of their own and decided there was enough material to release their collaboration album: Lotta Sea Lice.
Some of the tracks on Lotta Sea Lice are beautifully done covers. The third track is a slow and dreamy cover of “Fear is like a Forest” by Jen Cloher, where their voices trail into the clouds, leaving soft hanging notes to hold onto, and the last track is a rendition of Belly’s 1993 “Untogether.” Barnett and Vile then immerse themselves into each other and their distinct, deadpan writing styles by covering each other’s songs: Barnett’s “Outta the Woodwork” and Vile’s “Peepin’ Tomboy.”
Viles and Barnett’s voices immediately compliment each other on the first track, “Over Everything.” It starts with a soft drum pattern and traveling guitar riffs that pull from the bluegrass jam influence Vile is known for. The lyrics call attention to feelings of loneliness and explore how Vile and Barnett console themselves with their art. “When I’m by myself and it’s daytime cuz down-under / Or wherever it is I live when it’s evening / You know I speed-read the morning news and come up with my / own little song also.”
Each of the songs thereafter feel a bit lethargic. The two talents are mostly known for their lyrical work, and their collaborative poetry sometimes gets lost in the instrumentals of the record. The pair plays tunes that feel like an elongated jam sesh, especially in the four-minute long “On Script,” with only three verses sung above the instrumentals. Barnett takes her time hitting each note. Her voice feels like a breath of words hanging in the humid July air, so thick you can almost see it.
The entirety of the record feels like a stream of consciousness. There is no specific beginning, end, or middle: It’s just a flow of emotion. Its lyrical content reflects on mundane, but important feelings that surround people in their everyday endeavors. It feels honest and human: things that Vile and Barnett are experts at embracing on their solo-projects. Vile’s rustic voice and Barnett’s angelic tone, all backed by hazy instrumentals, form a cloudy, long daydream that is Lotta Sea Lice.