Maybe you were like me(or maybe you weren’t) that when you heard Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile were making a collaborative album together it just seemed like the perfect match. There’s a care-free quality about both of them that a coming together of these two seemed like the right thing. The essential thing, even.
I’ve been a fan of Vile for a few years now. He’s made three, in my opinion, classic albums in a row. His songs can be precise shots of swagger and pop; as well as moseying, drawn-out jams that run well over the 10 minute mark. Regardless of what mode he may be in, Vile makes tunes that feel aged to perfection. If there was someone that could step into Tom Petty’s shoes, I think Vile could be that person.
I’ve only recently in the last year or so come around to Courtney Barnett. While she’s a little more uptempo than Vile, there’s still this carefree, messy-haired kid with a spark in her step vibe that is a thru line from her to Vile. Her music seems to have a connection to the early 90s heyday of alternative rock. While Vile may be more Wildflowers, Barnett is definitely more It’s A Shame About Ray or Only Everything.
On Lotta Sea Lice, Barnett and Vile come together as perfectly as you’d hope, though at times I wish there was a little more of Barnett influencing Vile than the other way around.
Right off the bat, “Over Everything” is one of the best tracks I’ve heard this year. It’s simply this tasty nugget of breezy, bluesy pop. A perfect coming together of Barnett and Vile, with each taking a verse and then eventually coming together in harmony. It may be over 6 minutes but you don’t notice. Both of them bring their collective ticks, quirks, and nuances to the song and they mesh like two peas in a slightly messy pod. “Continental Breakfast” is another beauty of a song. It’s a low key track that seems to talk about their “intercontinental friendship”. Vile and Barnett sing like they’re in a conversation over coffee all the while guitars jangle and brushed drums keep the song moving nicely. There’s also an exquisite version of Vile’s “Peepin’ Tom” sung by Barnett. The heavy reverb from the original version is washed away and Barnett brings the song into sharper focus. She’s stated that this was the song she bonded with her partner over and you can hear that personal connection in her rendition. “On Script” is a dirge-y number that sounds like it could’ve been a Califone or a Jicks outtake. It’s jangly, untethered beauty. “Blue Cheese” almost has an early Flaming Lips vibe. Add some trashcan drums and you’d have a Transmissions From The Satellite Heart B-side.
I think my biggest complaint with this record is that I wish there was more of Barnett’s punky, upbeat influence on here. Most of these songs are in Vile’s down tempo mode which is all fine and good if it’s a Vile record, but it’s not just a Vile record. I would love to have heard some of that buzzing guitar that we heard on Courtney’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Despite the lack of chutzpah, with each successive spin this album becomes more endearing each time.
Lotta Sea Lice is a collaboration that on paper looks great and sounds just as good in real life. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are like two siblings separated by years and continents, but have finally been reunited. Lotta Sea Lice is that beautiful family reunion.