Album Review: “Lotta Sea Lice” by Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile

Some of the best things in music are collaborations. Queen & David Bowie. Beyonce & Lady Gaga. Fall Out Boy & Panic! At The Disco. With the exception of hip-hop, the genre of perfect pairings has been declining, with artists secluding themselves from each other creatively. However, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett have come to revive it, with a new collab album to cherish. Lotta Sea Lice is a disjointed, lighthearted, and surprisingly intimate mixture of flavors.

The album is built on friendship, to the point that often Courtney and Kurt are in each other’s heads. This is expressed in many ways, most notably trading voices in the “Over Everything” music video, the names switched on the cover art, and more obscurely the use of each others songs throughout the album, each one taking the lead on songs the other had wrote. This works with their similar styles of singing to make the album feel very ethereally blended, almost like listening to lifelong friends, with their own language created just for them.

Each song takes a slightly different mood, but all are tied together with drawn out and repetitive chord progressions and clever but understated lyrics. “Over Everything” is brilliant for its honesty about the song writing process, and feels like a conversation while simultaneously setting the tone for the rest of the album. “Continental Breakfast,” the other single, is a vignette of personal relationships, and what drives them. “I walked like a bruised ego along shorefront property un-owned to me/ But I’m feelin’ inferior on the interior, don’t ya see?” Kurt sings, highlighting the feelings of isolation with turns of phrase that bounce back and forth.

“Blue Cheese” is my personal favorite, with almost nonsensical phrases that blend together to form a story that I’m not sure I want to understand (“Blue cheese up your -well you know” I really don’t, Kurt). It gives off a sense of homemade, with stumbling words and childlike interjections. Other songs may go unnoticed on the first listen, but after spending some time, they shine just as much as the rest. “Fear Is Like A Forest,” written by Courtney’s partner Jen Cloher, is a darker reflection on the conflict of oneself, between fear and creativity, between isolation and relationships.

I’d encourage spending some time with the album, the music videos are perfectly made, and if you can pick up a physical copy too, it’s filled with production photos and interesting notes. All of this culminates to make the album personal, bringing a little bit of its inception to you, the listener. This album speaks specifically to interpersonal relationships, seclusion, isolation, and intimacy, and weighs them over while also feeling like a conversation, with Kurt, Courtney, and the audience involved. Each song is filled with sharp guitar licks, engaging harmonies, and witty turns of phrase, but underneath it all is the sharing of ideas.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are on tour right now in the United States with Jen Cloher, and will be coming to Philadelphia Nov. 3rd at the Tower Theater. Tickets and the album available at http://courtneybarnettandkurtvile.com/

Check out Luisa’s review of Over Everything here:

https://wqhsradio.org/2017/10/03/single-review-over-everything/

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