Release Date: Oct 13, 2017
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
In fact, it’s ideal throughout Lotta Sea Lice – each woozy yet warm, the two passing lyrics between each other as though they’ve been songwriting partners for the whole of their respective careers. Lotta Sea Lice is a collaborative album from Courtney Barnett, the Melbourne-based indie-garage guitarist whose 2013 The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas and 2015 debut full-length, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit have received nothing but critical praise; and Kurt Vile, indie-rock extraordinaire and former War on Drugs lead guitarist who is now six solo albums deep, reaping similar commendations with every release, and oft listed as one of the best songwriters of his generation. It’s no surprise pairing.
In a year fraught with emotional intensity and existential drama, the lighthearted Lotta Sea Lice, the new collaborative album by Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, is a welcome change of pace. Rooted in the artists’ mutual admiration, the album finds the Aussie Barnett and American Vile celebrating one another in a way that highlights increasingly revealed common ground. What began as an idea for a split single evolved into a full-length, and that evolution is on full display on Lotta Sea Lice.
A perfect marriage of sound and substance, Lotta Sea Lice finds two of indie rock's most vibrant and eclectic singer/songwriters sharing the spotlight for a brilliant joint LP. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile have long been celebrated for their introspective, journalistic songwriting, acting as voyeurs into the everyday life of the ordinary human. A perfect marriage of sound and substance, Lotta Sea Lice finds two of indie rock's most vibrant and eclectic singer/songwriters sharing the spotlight for a brilliant joint LP.
When this reviewer interviewed Courtney Barnett at the absolute peak of her debut full-length’s success, in late 2015, she did not come across by any stretch of the imagination as a woman in a rush. Plenty of her contemporaries would have been anxious to strike while the iron was hot with a follow-up if they’d enjoyed the kind of halcyon year that the Australian did with Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, but instead, Barnett seemed happy to tend to her still-fledgling record label back in Melbourne, Milk, and se where the wind took her in terms of songwriting inspiration. As she said more than once in a nondescript dressing room at The Ritz in Manchester, where she’d been idling the pre-show afternoon away with a book and working her way through her rider’s Stella allowance, 'I’m an artist, man, not a machine'.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile share a lot in common as artists and songwriters. Each has become a celebrated indie rock headliner in the past decade, and each has a Dylan-esque quality of making beautiful, profound music from an unpolished, vulnerable approach. Yet perhaps the most important quality that these two songwriters share is their ability to take that vulnerability and make it relatable and charming via witty wordplay and a down-to-earth sensibility.
A lthough the pairing of these two wonderfully languid singer-songwriters could have ended up too hazy, their mutually dreamy, drawling styles complement each other perfectly. The way their guitars jangle and chime together reflects a longstanding friendship. They sing on each other.
When two marquee names in the rock world come together, the results are often, at best, a mixed bag. The promised pairing of Australia’s Courtney Barnett and Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile immediately raised expectations—and created the fear of an inevitable letdown. Fear not: Barnett and Vile have drawled and noodled their way into a 2017 album standout with their debut duo effort, Lotta Sea Lice. Even for these two top-tier indie rock talents, it’s rare that lackadaisical sounds so professional. “We thought we should record as much as we can, just see what happens,” Vile says in the publicity materials accompanying Lotta Sea Lice.
The announcement of a Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile collaborative record earlier in the year felt like Christmas had come early. Both artists have overcome the perilously reductive ‘slacker-rock’ tag to make some of the most beguiling and imaginative records of recent years. Although individually much of the appeal of their music is its very uniqueness, they do share a certain ascetic which made the impending union feel perfect.
Looking back at collaborative albums by rock artists over the past decade, especially considering all-star team-ups in rap like Watch the Throne and Run the Jewels, the concept screams as inessential. Whether the collaboration yields an enjoyable result, like Wavves and Cloud Nothings or Ty Segall and White Fence, or looks better on paper than its execution, like David Byrne and St. Vincent or Jesu and Sun Kil Moon, they tend to amount to little more than footnotes in each artist’s career.
Philly country-psych zen master Kurt Vile and Australian indie-rock orator Courtney Barnett are at once an odd couple and a perfect union—not so much a mirror image of one another as a negative exposure. Vile rarely rocks out as rambunctiously as Barnett, and Barnett doesn’t ever zone out to the same degree as Vile. And where Barnett can pack an impossible amount of observational narrative detail into a single couplet, Vile often spends his songs lingering on the feeling of lingering.
Here are two great indie-rock songwriters getting together to spool out autumnal guitar prettiness and converse about life, art and whatever. As collaborators, they're a perfect match: Kurt Vile is a master of zoned-out fingerpicking and droll longhaired jive; Courtney Barnett is a Dylanesque image ninja who can turn everyday stuff like making ramen noodles into rich, personal meditations. The idea of a Kurt and a Courtney making a record has a darkly funny resonance but the Nineties fantasy-rock pairing they really evoke is Stephen Malkmus and Liz Phair, the languid guitar surgeon and the causally incisive lyrical realist.
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile share an affinity for jangling Fender guitars, lackadaisical drawls, and a dark, cutting wit. Heck, they even look like moppy-haired twins. So their new album, Lotta Sea Lice, is almost too perfect a coupling, especially for Barnett, whose Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is one of the most exciting and refreshing rock debuts in recent memory.
As heirs apparent to the throne of '90s alt-rock, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett appear to be an ideal match -- comrades in slacktivism united by a shrug and a smirk. If neither singer/songwriter sounds precisely like the other, they're good complements, both cherishing laconic melodies, loping rhythms, and a loads of guitar. All of these elements are in play on Lotta Sea Lice, a rambling nine-song affair that finds the duo singing each other's songs, playing tunes penned by friends, and covering Belly's "Untogether," an underappreciated '90s cult classic that the band once played as a duet with Radiohead's Thom Yorke.