ALBUM: Courtney Barnett – ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’

Courtney Barnett’s latest album, Things Take Time, Take Time, seems like her most straightforward, but we should not take its sunny optimism for granted. In relation to previous work, it seems rigorously disciplined, sticking to a restrained sound and upholding a positive outlook throughout. It is not particularly innovative or surprising, but rather content to master its tone, creating a more consistent mood than earlier work. Expect this album to ease its way under your skin, even if it does not necessarily reach out and grab you on first listen. 

Things Take Time…  feels inextricable from the context in which it was written. Its title nods to Barnett’s lockdown writing process and the space the pandemic brought back to her life. This space had been constricted by years of heavy touring since the release of her 2015 debut, as felt throughout the claustrophobic, at times self-accusatory Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018). Things Take Time… is remarkably at ease, with its sunny guitars and gently rolling tunes, reflecting and appreciating the slower pace of life that the pandemic forced upon us. This makes for an album that does not particularly challenge the listener and on the surface does not challenge Barnett to create her most ambitious work, though the fact she is able to make something so straightforwardly pleasant in itself speaks volumes for her journey over the last few years. Discussing the creation of the album, Barnett commented to DIY, that “sometimes you have to go all the way down the wrong path to go back and find the short, easy answer”, an attitude that seems to define this new release in relation to her previous works that were more complex but also emotionally fraught. 

Barnett said of Tell Me How You Really Feel that many of the songs were conceived as ‘letters to friends’ but always seemed to turn out addressed to herself, which apparently gave her more licence to be critical. On Things Take Time…, however, it feels like the songs look more genuinely beyond their creator into the lives of loved ones, and in doing so finds a sympathetic tone. ‘Sunfair Sundown’ and ‘Turning Green’ both congratulate friends on newfound contentment (“I’ve never seen you so happy”, she croons on the latter). ‘Take it Day by Day’ encourages its subject to keep on keeping on (to borrow a phrase from an earlier Barnett song) with the chugging syncopation of a fitness DVD and some great lines, the best being, “Don’t stick that knife in the toaster, Baby life is like a rollercoaster”. ‘If I Don’t Hear from You Tonight’, an anthem for locked-down dating as mediated by distance and DMs, is an exercise in putting herself in the shoes of a crush who hasn’t replied perhaps just because they’ve gone to bed or something, not because they’re not interested. 

Though never particularly ostentatious with sound, on Things Take Time… Barnett is most decisive in stripping things back to their simplest form. Breaking with her usual lineup of bassist Bones Sloane, drummer Dave Mudie and a rotating cast of contributors on various other instruments, Barnett elected to record these tracks almost entirely between herself and drummer/producer Stella Mozgawa (of Warpaint, but also spotted popping up increasingly on a range of canny indie releases). This results in a set of wonderfully simple arrangements which as a whole anchor the lucid positivity of the album’s themes. Compare the easy, gentle opener ‘Rae Street’ with the previous album’s ‘Need a Little Time’, which has moments of similar niceness that are then undercut by the suddenly heavy “and you, ooh ooh ooh” section of the chorus. This streamlining of arrangement recalls the shift made by Cate le Bon on her album Mug Museum, for which she consciously restrained songs to their most essential layers so that each part felt necessary and nothing was crowded out (something she has since taken further on more experimental albums also featuring… you guessed it: Stella Mozgawa). The influence of Cate le Bon and Mug Museum in particular also translates itself into the guitar lines of tracks like ‘Sunfair Sundown’ and ‘If I Don’t Hear from You Tonight’ (indeed, the latter actually features le Bon on bass!).

 Things Take Time… seems to finally match the enduring image of Courtney Barnett, as expressed in endless Australian sunflower desert Marcelle Bradbeer photoshoots, unburdened by the psychological struggles that have previously taken over her writing and able to find a great deal of space in its rolling guitar lines. It is perhaps her most Australian-sounding album, with her more grungey 90s references sidelined in favour of that expansive ‘striped sunlight sound’ mastered recently by acts like Twerps, Jade Imagine and Dick Diver (whom Barnett has been quoted as calling “the best living band in Australia”). We get the sense that Barnett enjoyed returning to her musical roots, not only in terms of these influences but also in the manner in which they were channelled. She is keen to leave evidence of the solo, domestic lockdown creation process, often leaving guitar lines exposed and clean and building tracks around simple loops on an old drum. The best example of this is ‘Turning Green’, a highlight of the album that starts out sounding like a demo with the vocals mixed unusually quietly and a buzzy bedroom guitar playing along, before it spirals into a bizarre and fantastic instrumental close, a rare and welcome surprise on a rather strait-laced track-list.

This collection of songs is rather unassuming, as Barnett favours slow burners and small-scale, day-to day mindfulness. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Barnett has constructed an album that maintains a more measured and balanced tone than previous efforts. A radically pleasant album that speaks of the best of the slowed down pandemic world. 

Things Take Time, Take Time, the latest album from Courtney Barnett, is out now via Milk! Records.

Lloyd Bolton
@franklloydwleft

EP: Deap Vally – ‘Digital Dream’

It’s often repeated that the enemy of art is the absence of limitations, but limitations can eventually outlive their usefulness – as Deap Vally discovered when cracks began to show in the band’s creative partnership. With two acclaimed albums of maximalist blues-rock behind them, Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards began to feel the strain of working democratically as a duo. The ‘enemy’, it turns out, could in fact be the absence of a deciding vote.

Going through a form of couples therapy helped them to re-evaluate and open up their process and, feeling rejuvenated, they set out to make an album of collaborations. Digital Dream is not that album, but it features four songs originally planned for it – each one distinct from the other and pointing in several interesting directions for Troy and Edwards to progress in.

For a band named Deap Vally, they certainly have a few friends in high places. The guestlist for Digital Dream reads like a page from the Who’s Who of the L.A. music scene: Peaches, KT Tunstall, Soko, Jenny Lee Lindberg of Warpaint and Jamie Hince of The Kills all contribute. Behind-the-scenes videos from the recording process offer a glimpse into how these songs were pieced together, with experimentation, a little frustration and heaps of mutual respect. Those sessions took place way back in 2018, but ‘Look Away’ and, especially, ‘Digital Dream’ feel strangely relevant to our current situation. That Lindberg co-write ‘Look Away’, with its lovely three-way harmonies, is – by Deap Vally’s own standards – almost shockingly sedate. Vulnerability creeps into the framework of the song but a steely resistance remains at its core, driven by the confident, repetitive rhythm and the insistent command to not gaze too long at the past.

‘Digital Dream’ is something else altogether. Soko’s star turn here is as narrator from the year 2068 where human interaction is all but extinct and resistance to the post-apocalyptic technocracy is less than futile (think E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops, without the redemptive arc). Together, the three women successfully build a Stockholm syndrome song-world, complete with atmospheric bleeps and blops, zeroing in on illusions of pleasure within the vividly dystopian context. Then, as the extended outro fades, we’re jolted back into the present with the cocksure swagger of ‘High Horse’. Tunstall, Troy and Edwards grandstand from the get-go – “I could be fucking anything I want / Yes, I’m driven, I use what I’m given” – and the chorus is close to euphoric. Things take a turn for the gloriously absurd when Peaches comes in with a typically audacious rap. Who else could rhyme ‘Devil Wears Prada’ with ‘boys on Truvada’ and ‘douche with java’ with ‘been to Bratislava’? It’s good, unpolished fun.

Finale ‘Shock Easy’ is less instantly attention-grabbing but reveals itself over several listens to be quite revelatory in its own right, with some masterful guitar work from Hince. A chilling reflection on the very American epidemic of mass shootings, it has the sort of detached, observational insight that made Sheryl Crow’s early albums so refreshing. “It was all too easy, now it’s all too heavy,” they rasp over blown-out drums and a starkly contrasting, almost-gospel backdrop that elevates and punctuates the song. It’s four for four, then, in terms of breaking all the Deap Vally ‘rules’ – and to largely great effect.

By following their instincts rather than self-imposed red lines, Troy and Edwards have discovered new doors where once they saw only walls. With more music promised later in the year, we won’t have to wait long to find out where they lead.

Listen to Deap Vally’s Digital Dream EP here.

Photo Credit: Kelsey Hart

Alan Pedder
@_neverdoneing

Introducing Interview: Murman

Since forming in 2018, London-based Murman have wowed crowds at venues such as The Scala, The Windmill and The Old Blue Last, and have now – following the frenzied energy of last year’s ‘Panama’ – shared a brand new single. ‘Achilles’ hits you instantly with its gritty hooks, swooning vocals and immense thrashing beats, as it builds to a riotous slice of garage-rock, oozing a raw, scuzzy energy.

We caught up with drummer Abbi Knell to find out more about Murman and their distinctive sound…

Hi Abbi, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hello, and thank you! I’m Abbi and I play the drums in a band called Murman, based in North London. I grew up in Suffolk and have been playing since I was about 10 years old, when I started my first band to play in a school talent competition. Very rock and roll. For a day job I work in communications and campaigns for a global philanthropy, so it’s a very different world to music but I really enjoy flitting between the two, and I picked up cycling during lockdown 1.0 – so that’s a nice new hobby!

How did you and David initially decide to start creating music together as Murman?
So, when I moved to London after university I was desperate to get back into playing live. I started scrolling through a few GumTree ads looking for drummers, and stumbled across an ad from David looking to start a band. We first met back in 2018, and David already had a few songs drafted (‘Christian Boys’, our first single, and ‘Tred Bay’, our second), so we used those as a springboard into other sounds, hooks, and ideas. It really started for us both as a hobby and a passion, I don’t think either of us thought a year later we’d be playing at Scala or hosting our own headline shows at The Shacklewell Arms, but it’s so much fun, and that’s at the heart of the music we want to create too – fun to play and fun to listen to. 

You’ve just released your gritty new single ‘Achilles’ – are there any particular themes running throughout it?
We have! Out of all our releases it’s probably the most difficult for us to attribute a singular theme or genre to – it’s an amalgamation of different ideas, but we always play with the notion of masculinity and try to flip it on its head. It ultimately developed into quite a tongue in cheek, playful song you can dance to, but the undertones of real emotion are still there.

We love the dark, thrashing sounds of the single, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
It’s a really tricky question. I’d say lyrically we’re influenced by anything and everything, from the darker styles of Joy Division to much lighter stuff like Devo, but drumming-wise I’ve always been pulled towards The Horrors, Our Girl, Idles… Anything with a heavy floor-tom and splashing cymbals. Growing up I loved watching Anna Prior from Metronomy, or Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint as incredible female drummers. Watching Stella definitely encouraged me to be more experimental in my own drumming, and branch out from letting the hi-hat and snare dictate my own drumming patterns.

How are you connecting with your audience and other musicians during the pandemic?
We (David) have done a few live sessions on Instagram and Facebook, but it’s so far removed from how we sound live that we’ve tried to engage through other means. We were a part of the Stay Home independent artists’ album earlier in 2020, and have done a few Instagram live interviews. But mainly we try to share our friends’ music as much as possible – I think getting support and recognition from other artists has been really important for loads of bands over the past 12 months. 

And has there been anything/anyone specific that has been inspiring you, or helping to motivate you, throughout these strange times?
I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts and reading more over lockdown – I’ve just finished ‘Blonde Roots’ by Bernardine Evaristo, which I’d recommend! I think I’ve actually used this unintended break from music as an opportunity to engage more in other interests, rather than trying to force musical creativity. As a drummer living in a flat, it’s a little tricky to keep playing anyway, so I had to form new routines. In terms of motivation though, I’m definitely counting down to when we can play live and go to gigs again, and I think we’ll all value live music so much more after its 18 month absence!

How do you feel the music industry is for new artists at the moment – would you say it’s difficult to get noticed?
It seems like it’s always difficult to get noticed, but particularly at the moment. Social media is so heavily saturated with content it’s really hard to cut through, which is why we prefer to focus on live gigs and put on a real show. I think the key thing is not expecting people will just come to you, but reaching out instead – we’re pretty shameless in tagging and messaging BBC Intro, Steve Lamacq and big bands etc on Instagram, and sometimes it pays off! You just have to be super proactive if you’re trying to get industry recognition, but obviously if you’re just doing it for fun then you can do whatever you like!

As we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists that you’d recommend we check out?
It’s pretty bad to think that, over the two years we’ve been gigging, we’ve probably only played with a handful of bands with other women in, but I’m really hoping that will change! I’d definitely recommend listening to Maya Law – she’s an incredibly talented upcoming musician and brilliant lyricist. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Liz Lawrence, she’s such a warm character both on stage and on record, and writes in a really frank and authentic way, which I think often gets taken for granted in the current music landscape. You should definitely check both of them out!

Finally, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for Murman?
That’s a big open question but I can safely say that if gigs are back, we’ll do doing as many as we can! We’re also releasing our music video for ‘Achilles’ in a month or so, so keep an eye out for that. Hopefully we’ll also be able to release another single later in the year, and play a few more gigs outside the M25. Getting into more cities across the UK was our original plan for last summer, so we’ll definitely be making the most out of the freedom we have to play again, to as many people as possible. For now, I’ll have to make do with my podcasts and David’s regular WhatsApp voice notes. 

Huge thanks to Abbi for answering our questions!

 

‘Achilles’, the latest single from Murman, is out now. Listen on Spotify.

LISTEN: Bitch Falcon – ‘Martyr’

A savage blend of visceral vocals, grungy guitars and powerhouse percussion, Dublin trio Bitch Falcon have shared their latest single ‘Martyr’. The third single to be lifted from their debut album Staring At Clocks, which is set for release via Brighton label Small Pond on 6th November, the band effortlessly combine the racing energy of post-punk beats with the melodic elements of grunge on this new offering.

“Nigel’s drumming reminds me of Warpaint in this, it has such a bounce to it,” explains Bitch Falcon’s vocalist and guitarist Lizzie Fitzpatrick. “I tried to span my vocals from soft to cord-ripping, a bid to show the aggression in the song.” Fitzpatrick’s ability to deliver soft lines and ear-shredding screams at the flick of a switch is what makes ‘Martyr’ such a powerful tune. Underscored by Nigel Kenny’s heavy yet buoyant drumming and Barry O’Sullivan’s brooding bass lines, the single demands repeated listens to fully appreciate each of these formidable elements.

Listen to ‘Martyr’ below and follow Bitch Falcon on bandcamp, Spotify and Facebook for more updates.

 

Order Bitch Falcon’s debut album Staring At Clocks here.

Kate Crudgington
@KCBobCut