An Inside Look At Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile’s Charming Joint Album, ‘Lotta Sea Lice’

Cultural Critic


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Before she ever knew him personally, Courtney Barnett leaned on Kurt Vile during a low point in her life. “I was kind of unemployed, and kind of depressed, and just going through this weird time, and for some reason this song just really connected with me,” the Australian singer-songwriter recalled when I reached her last month, referring to the intensely lonely ballad “Peeping Tomboy,” a highlight of Vile’s excellent 2011 LP, Smoke Ring For My Halo.

Barnett bought the record, one of her first-ever purchases on vinyl, based on a premonition that she would like it — she hadn’t heard Vile’s music before. Once Barnett flipped it over to side two, Vile’s meandering folk-rock narrative about a wayward misfit drew her in. She would lay in bed and listen to the song over and over. Later, when Barnett met her girlfriend, Jen Cloher, Smoke Ring For My Halo soundtracked the formative stages of their relationship.

Barnett paid back the favor by covering “Peeping Tomboy” on Lotta Sea Lice, her forthcoming joint album with Vile due 10/13. Recorded in about a week’s time over the course of two Australian summers, Lotta Sea Lice is a delightful segue for two of the best artists currently working in contemporary rock, presenting a loose and lively collection of charmingly low-key and generous tunes that sparkle with ramshackle perfection. Barnett’s deadpan wit is well-matched by Vile’s every-dude vérité, with the former providing some lyrical sharpness to Vile and the latter supplying wondrously frayed guitar solos to Barnett. Together, they already seem locked in like long-time bandmates who complement each other out of second nature.

“I think [our] music’s similar enough — it’s usually sort of melodic, sort of sensitive, or semi-wordy,” Vile said. “Her style of rock is a little different than my style of rock. But this is more of a folk-rock, kind of organic thing. It’s a little bulkier.”

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