Music Reviews
Lotta Sea Lice

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Lotta Sea Lice

(Matador) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

When it was first announced, a collaboration between Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett seemed at once random and also strangely inevitable. While it seemingly came from nowhere, it suddenly made sense that the two long-haired, flannel-clad, and slightly disheveled songwriters could form such a partnership. Their music may have slightly different inspirations, but in hindsight, it has always seemed complimentary to the other; their drawling delivery may come from different continents, but they’ve both always had a knack for making the plain seem profound.

It’s not surprising, then, that Lotta Sea Lice also deals with the mundane and minutiae of everyday life, but now with each other to bounce off, the stream of consciousness lyricism is swapped with more fluent conversations. On many of the tracks, it feels like the songs are off-the-cuff discussions written as the music comes together. On the album’s opener, Over Everything, both Vile and Barnett joke about how their ideas come to them, and the toll that music has taken on their ears, apparently just to reach the punchline: “I guess you could say I can hear you several levels at high decibels.”

Those songwriting discussions seep into the other tracks as well, but these conversations are more significant than just musical note taking. Let It Go sees the pair alternating lines as if giving each other a pep talk, culminating with Barnett repeating “You’ve got to let it go, before it takes you over.” The track, as with most of Barnett’s writing on the album, sounds like it would be at home on her double EP, A Sea of Split Peas, rather than her debut album, and it is a welcome return to the almost country-influenced sound that many thought she had abandoned. 

They also take turns in covering songs from each other’s past work. Vile’s version of Out of the Woodwork, a gem from Barnett’s debut EP, feels a little too slow and never really justifies its place on the album. Barnett, however, has much more success in her version of Peepin’ Tom. If it wasn’t for the bluesy guitar throughout, it would be easy to mistake most of the lyrics - especially “I don’t wanna give up, but I kind of wanna lie down” - as her own musings.  The pair also cover Jen Cloher’s (Barnett’s partner) Fear Is Like a Forest, but it highlights the biggest problem with this album, though, in that it is a solid version but it doesn’t really justify its place beyond padding out an album that is short on original material.

There’s also the problem that plagues many a collaboration, in that they have to compromise themselves to reach a vague middle ground. Barnett’s long, winding monologues are absent, while Vile’s guitar work is restrained and toned down; it means the album finds itself in a very safe middle ground for both artists.

Even considering that, there’s something to be said about how fun a safe middle ground can be. Rather than forcing themselves to take risks, Vile and Barnett both produce straightforward songs that are earnest and endearing odes to friendship. With any other protagonists this project could become sickeningly twee, but Vile and Barnett deliver every lyric, no matter how ridiculous, with absolute sincerity. As they close with a stunning cover of Belly’s Untogether, it’s difficult to be cynical about something this utterly charming.