By Jacob Carter
Artist: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Album: Lotta Sea Lice
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are two of the biggest indie rock acts working today, so when their collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice came out on Oct. 13, most reactions to it (including my own) were something along the lines of, “yeah, of course it’s great.” Both Vile and Barnett have a conversational style of songwriting, and their music is all the better when they have someone else to converse with.
There’s not a song on Lotta Sea Lice that feels dominated by one artist or the other. Vile and Barnett establish an interplay that feels so natural and organic it could only grow out of a genuine friendship and respect for each other. While the duo’s chemistry shines through on every song, the two cover tracks on Sea Lice are a kind of distillation of what makes the two work so well together. On “Outta the Woodwork” (originally off of Barnett’s debut LP), Barnett’s signature stormy guitar melodies compliment Vile’s folksy, mumbling singing style. Meanwhile, the storytelling on “Peepin’ Tom,” (from Vile’s Smoke Ring For My Halo), sounds like it comes naturally to Barnett.
The best parts of Sea Lice, as would be expected of a duet album, come when the pair plays with all kinds of musical back-and-forth. Singles “Over Everything” and “Continental Breakfast” read as so effortless for the two, it wouldn’t be hard to believe both songs were recorded on the spot first try. But at the same time, every song feels rehearsed, with a momentum that carries you softly through the overcast picture Barnett and Vile paint of the world. Melancholy is a mainstay of both artist’s solo work, but is taken with equal parts goofy charm through non-sequiturs and quick rhymes. “Blue Cheese” is an especially fun song.
In terms of ’60s-folk-pop-throwback albums, (which seems to be a growing genre in 2017), Sea Lice may be the best album of the year. Barnett and Vile at once find their footing and hit the ground running as a duo, which is only to be expected of two figures as currently colossal as them.