Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
(Mom & Pop ***1/2)
nolead ends On the release of Courtney Barnett's debut album last month, MTV.com did a cute quiz called "Is this a Courtney Barnett lyric or just something I did today?" Readers were asked to guess whether lines such as A) "I wanna go out but I wanna stay home," B) "Jen insists we buy organic vegetables, and I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first," and C) "My taste buds are dead, I can't tell if it's cream cheese or butter" were the work of the keen-eyed Australian songwriter or merely random phrases. (If you guessed that A and B are Barnett's, good on you, mate.)
The point of the music-geek click-bait was this: Barnett has a gift for turning the mundane into the marvelous. She's a stream-of-consciousness writer who sings about ordinary life in an extraordinary way. The 27-year-old guitarist with a just-exotic-enough Melbourne accent uses a deadpan delivery on self-deprecating, seemingly offhand songs such as "Pedestrian at Best" and "Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in NY)" that move toward self-discovery ("I used to hate myself, now I feel all right") in ways that are recognizably the stuff of real life. And musically, Barnett - who plays Union Transfer on June 15 - leads a comfortable-in-its-own-skin power trio that draws on 1960s garage-rock influences and plays with a low-key confidence and lack of ostentation that suits the songs to a T. - Dan DeLuca
nolead begins Death Cab for Cutie
nolead ends nolead begins Kintsugi
nolead ends nolead begins (Atlantic ***)
nolead ends Like most things Death Cab for Cutie does, Kintsugi is an artsy, literary, and intellectual concept. The Bellingham, Wash.-born band's eighth - and first without Chris Walla producing - is both an analogy for where the band is in their history and a great breakup record. The title references a Japanese fine-art tradition of repairing broken pottery by mixing lacquer with powdered gold or silver. It's a process that honors an object's history and narrative: there's no hiding the scars - so own them, beautify them, and celebrate them. Typical Death Cab. Though Walla doesn't get producer credits, he's on the album, playing and saying goodbye to the band, in a way.
Meanwhile, Ben Gibbard's still doing some bloodletting over his breakup with Zooey Deschanel, made abundantly clear in the record's first track, "No Room in Frame," or in "Ingenue" or "The Ghosts of Beverly Drive," for that matter. Death Cab's tenuous relationship with L.A. has yielded some great records, especially 2003's Transatlanticism, their first for Atlantic after a fruitful relationship with Barsuk. That amazing record's tones and triumphs are not distant from this one, a beautifully restrained and sophisticated entry in their catalog. They've teased the release with "Little Wanderer," a deliciously morose and moody guitar-driven track with hues of Interpol and the Smiths. Channeling both Pinback and Guided by Voices, Gibbard, bassist Nick Harmer, and drummer Jason McGerr have made a more than suitable follow-up to 2011's Codes and Keys. - Bill Chenevert
nolead begins Darius Rucker
nolead ends nolead begins Southern Style
nolead ends nolead begins (Capitol ***)
nolead ends It's not every day you hear a commercial country song that refers to novelist William Faulkner. But there it is in the title song of Darius Rucker's fourth country album.
It's one of the little ways the former Hootie and the Blowfish singer rescues the term Southern style from redneck connotations and sets himself apart from the beer-and-truck preoccupations of the current crop of young male country stars. (He's also, of course, one of the genre's rare black artists). Rucker may like to party as much as anyone, as he declares in the honky-tonk anthem "Good for a Good Time," but mostly he's "High on Life," and Southern Style is a celebration of simple, mellow pleasures.
The album is never simple-minded, however. You can thank Rucker's intelligent and unpretentious songwriting (he cowrote all 13 songs), and the work of producers Frank Rogers and Keith Stegall - two of Nashville's best. They don't stint on mainstream accessibility while enhancing the strength and character behind Rucker's warm, engaging presence. - Nick Cristiano