Pick of the Week: I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris - Courtney Barnett
Songs have been a mode of tale-telling since we were nomadic in sub-saharan Africa and battering mammoths to extinction with clubs. Nowadays the radio is thick with repetitive lyrics bent on sex and void of introspection. While there are notable exceptions (think Will Sheff and Gareth Liddiard), alternative music (for want of a better description) is plagued with ambiguous phrases and tired metaphors, clumsy rhyming disguising a lack of lyrical substance. Ladies seem to be as guilty of this faux-poetry as their male counterparts, which is a shame when what’s really lacking is decent social commentary in the form of music from the perspective of women. Particularly when so much popular music is wailed words about wanting the man/the process attracting the sexual attention of a man/having sex with said man/having heart broken by said man.
Courtney Barnett is a glorious exception to the dreary trend. She tells stories; frank, funny and often heart-rendering insights into life as a twenty-something still working out what to do with her life. As a lady of the same age, I relate to everything she sings about- familial expectations and subsequent disappointment, lonely late night under sheet-fumbles, share-house living, and the beauties and drudgeries of everyday life on a minimum wage.
Barnett’s is accompanied by a trove of exceptional musicians. Brent DeBoer of the Dandy Warhols and Immigrant Union lends his drumming prowess, and Pete Convery and Alex Hamilton of the wonderful Merri Creek Pickers lend their bass and guitar skills respectively. ‘I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris’ was recorded in a lounge room in a single day, and there’s a sweet energy to all of the tracks: somehow you can tell the musicians like one another.
There’s a great width of influence here, buzzy grunge guitar and bluesy hooks with country style melodies and sweet pop harmonies. The harmonies are a joy to behold; Barnett sometimes layering with herself, sometimes with a dusky male voice just in the background. Barnett sings with such ease, she has a wonderful tone in her voice that’s reminiscent of early Chan Marshall. And the girl can write a melody: these songs are catchy as herpes. If herpes were sparkly, tasted like cider and had you singing along.
‘I’ve got a friend called Emily Ferris’ (and yes, Emily is real and she’s pretty rad) is a woozy, lovely swagger into the heart of a lady who’s been kind enough to lay it all out for us, sweet and raw inside a gorgeous swig of garage pop. It launches Thursday April 19th at the Tote, featuring Barnett’s all-star ensemble. A final tout to the lyricism for what is my favourite album openers in recent history from Lance Jr:
‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote,
Resuscitated all of my hopes.
It felt wrong but it didn’t take too long.
Much appreciated all your songs.
Doesn’t mean I like you man
It just helps me get to sleep.
And it’s cheaper than Temazepam’
We’ve all been there. Courtney’s made that a beautiful thing.