New Music Reviews

Courtney Barnett’s Rae Street: Watching the World Go By

Before Courtney Barnett became a feminist punk rock badass, she was a Dylan like folk vagabond here in Australia. Rae Street is not only the title of Barnett’s new single, but it is also a street in Melbourne where she spent most of Australia’s COVID lockdown. One can imagine her writing this track, while looking out the window as the world went by. Barnett’s musical gift is her ability to chronicle the everyday in a grounded style, while seamlessly mixing in interesting existential questions. Rae Street is the peak of her shoegazing folk style and I love it.

This is the first single ahead of her new record Things Take Time, Take Time and resembles her work with Kurt Vile on their record Lotta Sea Lice and her early work on A Sea of Split Peas. Musically, the track washes over you as you become enveloped in meandering guitars and warmth. Much like Kurt Vile, Barnett’s work seems so free flowing and unstructured that it is difficult to see her using more than one or two takes. This gives the track a improv energy and a calming vibe. It is difficult to explain, but the lack of a clinical rock structure lifts some stress off the listener and you can just kick back and enjoy the song.

Lyrically, Barnett is at the top of her game and one of the most talented poets out there. She can sing about the day to day as a mother screams at her kids next door, “Next door the kids run amok / The mother screams don’t you ever shut up,” but then effortlessly drop a deep existential statement “Lay it on the table / Ya seem so stable / But you’re just hangin’ on.” Because in the midst of all the day to day of life within lockdown and COVID, we are all just hanging on. We are all just watching the garbage truck or changing our sheets to try to fill the time in a desperate attempt to make life appear as “normal” as possible. Rae Street reflects the inherent conflict within normal everyday chores / observations, in that they will never be normal again.

I love Courtney Barnett. I find her music relatable, artistic and poetic. Her ability to turn a phrase and capture the human experience is unparalleled in modern folk / punk. She reminds me a lot of John Prine and his meandering delivery and ability to turn everyday observational storytelling into an art. Rae Street is a return to her roots in Australian music and a needed warm blanket for your soul.

Listen to Rae Street

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