Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. It’s a great album title, isn’t it? And it functions on a couple of different levels. On first glance, it’s just a funny statement. But it also has a layer of “zen” about it, too – an evocation of sitting meditation, a clearing out of mental clutter and noise. I have no idea if the artist whose album it is – Courtney Barnett – had such interpretations in mind when she chose the title (it’s a quote from Winnie-the-Pooh author A.A. Milne which Barnett remembered from her childhood), but her music functions in much the same way. Seemingly stream-of consciousness slacker ramblings, in reality Barnett is no slacker. Her songs are well constructed and she’s an intelligent wordsmith, someone with a playful and adept command of the English language with lines like “More people die on the road than they do in the ocean, maybe we should mull over culling cars instead of sharks (or just lock them up in parks where we can go and view them)” (“Dead Fox”)
“Drank till I was sinking / Sank till I was thinking / That I’m thankful for this view. / We either think that we’re invincible / Or that we are invisible / But realistically we’re somewhere in between.” (“Kim’s Caravan”)
Her songs have a certain child-like (but not childish) quality – along the lines of Winnie-the-Pooh, for that matter. If Pooh was a 20-something singer/songwriter reporting on her observations of life from behind a punky guitar.
The cover art communicates the same vibe as the title. It’s a doodle, but it’s an engaging doodle. I guess more accurately, it’s a sketch (a step up from a doodle). The rest of the album package contains further drawings of chairs (“chair that needs new cushion”, “strange wooden chair that nobody sits on”, etc.). As art school dropout Barnett says in this interview about her art, “I had books of drawings of the album art and I had the title Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit , and I thought, ‘OK, chairs.’ So I just started doodling and then before I knew it I had a big collection of chair pictures. And I had all these out takes and thought I could do something with these. They are all real chairs too.”
She’s taking the ready connotation of sitting = chair to its obvious conclusion. And it’s in this obviousness that the whole package- music, title, and art- comes together to be a statement greater than the sum of its parts. A statement very homespun, very anti-glam, and very unpretentious that succeeds because of its humor, and a cool yet friendly attitude.
I’m reminded a bit of Edie Brickell. On the surface, Barnett and Brickell sound nothing alike, but Brickell’s artwork, which adorns many of her releases (with and without New Bohemians), is akin. As are Barnett-like titles such as Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars and songs like “What I Am” (“I’m not aware of too many things /I know what I know, if you know what I mean /Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box / Religion is the smile on a dog “) Barnett is a bit like an edgier, garage-band version of Edie Brickell for a younger, 2000’s audience. Though I don’t quite fit into that “younger” demographic anymore, her material is still appealing to me. It’s honest, down-to-earth, and artsy all at the same time. What more could you want?