2018 is a proving to be a stellar year for female artists and musicians. I am particularly moved by two of the innovative ladies with stellar records out this year, one whom is an Australian you may know well and the other an Irish spellbinder you should get to know well, both of whom thrive under the long shadow of St. Cobain.
First off Courtney Barnett who I find to be one of the most humble artists around despite her incredible guitar shredding skills and wordsmith abilities. I have talked to others who don’t feel her allure and I suppose she is an acquired taste. Hailing from Australia, she has put out 2 solo albums and a collaboration with the wonderful, again acquired taste, Kurt Vile. They sort of look similar with their hooded eyes and lots of thick and wavy brunette hair. Lot of SeaLice was a perfect collaboration. Their songs, like “Over Everything”, felt like 2 besties just jamming with no real intention of making an album, which I heard is what happened. It was a series of impromptu sessions. That album isn’t as edgy as Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. I like her style. She is a professional lyricist on her sophomore album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel”, which sounds like the dreaded “We need to talk” opening line of the dreaded relationship chat. The song “Nameless Faceless” is about misogyny and predatory behavior by men. A lot people think about it, but you must get brave to bring it to the forefront in music today. The song title gives a nod to the hidden track on Nirvana’s Nevermind. Kurt Cobain was an early influence on Courtney plus she is a lefty as well. I always felt Kurt was underrated as a guitarist. His skills were at times flawless much like Barnett’s who shreds without a pick and admits to having beat up hands. She has a brilliant penchant for storytelling on songs like “Avant Gardener”, where she details having a panic attack when she was outside gardening. I particularly like how she employs lyrics like “The paramedic thinks I’m clever cause I play guitar / I think she is clever cause she stops people dying” Plus, rhyming anaphylactic with super hypocondriatic is pure brilliance. She speaks of depression and self-doubt without ever disguising the subject matter. “The City Looks Pretty” details her nighttime walk around after her self-imposed 23 day exile. It is as if she is looking at her City with fresh eyes, taking in the details one might miss while rushing through their daily routine. I heard a DJ say she writes in a similar manner to John Prine, who is the king of writing about everyday people and the art of the mundane. She talks about relationships but doesn’t write overt love songs, which I thank her for. There are so many what I consider self-absorbed lady writers out there moaning about how somebody did them wrong. I don’t buy their self-indulgent melancholia like I buy Courtney’s panic attack.
Jealous Of The Birds is another lady who has piqued my interest. When I first heard “Plastic Skeletons” from Irish singer Naomi Hamilton I immediately thought, “I need more of this.” She utilizes stream of consciousness lyrics which seep into the album’s title as well: The Moths of What I Want Will Eat Me In My Sleep. This title is right up there with tUnE – yArDs I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life. “Plastic Skeletons” ignites with a flood of lyrics taken from her poetry books. She possesses a penchant for solid imagery and innovative rhyming patterns. Anyone who can rhyme Margarita with Golden Retriever is writer worth emulating. She writes in “City Lights”, “I hold my purse extra tight.” Hamilton mirrors Barnett’s song about “keeping her keys in between her fingers” in an effort to ward off a possible attack while walking through the park at night.
She speaks of her fears and doubts without being so self-involved and spins tales like a polished raconteur. I discern a 90s vibe to her musical style, just like Courtney who had the real deal twin sisters play on her album: Kim and Kelly Breeder Babes.
This 20-something didn’t start writing lyrics until 2014 but always seemed to have a need to observe the world around her and craft poetry. She appears to have a deeper experience with life, as evidenced by her poetry based-lyrics, than some of her 20-something counterparts. I read in a review she “developed a vocabulary as a songwriter rich in empathy and generosity”, which is another similarity she has with Barnett. She doesn’t write above you. She writes to you.
Much of the strength in her songs is derived from their broad-ranging topics. In “Marcus” she sings about punching said Marcus in the nose. “Marcus runs across the lawn, off to go and tell his Mom Got no spine”, following this bit of violence with, “Marcus I love you”. In “Parma Violets” She begs her friend not to swallow pills like Parma Violets and slides this tasty nugget: “Our lives are prisms, the light beams through, refracting colors is what we do”. Her songs have an energetic visual quality to them. You feel like you can “see” them in addition to absorbing the sounds. Barnett’s songs also have that strong visual quality.
Both artists share a Nirvana connection. Courtney’s brother introduced her to Nirvana when she was young, and she took cues from Kurt on mastering the guitar in her natural lefty style. At SXSW in 2016 Naomi threw in a cover of ”Heart Shaped Box” which was heard by Nirvana’s publicist, who in turn visited Ireland twice and ended up signing her to his label. I sincerely wish this Irish lass tons of success and hope to keep digging into her music, spectacular imagery, and easy-going guitar style.