Music Review: Spring 2015 releases: Blossoming with exquisite intimacy

Sarah Armstrong, Staff Writer

Courtney Barnett, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”

Courtney Barnett’s first complete studio album, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” offers a refreshing blend of noisy rock, toned-down folk, and mellow acoustic guitar. Her tone, lyrics, and delivery are conversational and direct, stopping just short of blunt, while still managing to retain a soft edge.

There is a casually aloof yet intimate and personal aspect of Barnett’s music that is striking in its simplicity. Her story-like lyrics draw the listener’s attention and appreciation towards the details of the commonplace.

“Depreston,” one of the album’s most popular songs, lightens up on the heavy percussion present in the surrounding tracks, with lyrics detailing a house-hunting venture in Preston, a suburb outside of Barnett’s native Melbourne, Australia. With a touch of melancholy, Barnett notices “a photo of a young man in Vietnam” in one of the homes, causing her to forget about searching for a suitable house to buy, and instead wondering why the presumed widow bought the house in the first place.

For the most part, the album is loud without being abrasive, in your face without making you feel uncomfortable. Barnett wields the ability of rendering the simple and unnoticed, complex and full of mystery, feeling, and backstory. Her style is curt, precise, and economic. She lays out the scene, and then steps back, letting the listener fill in the details, imagining for themselves the stories behind the soldier’s picture and “handrail in the shower.”

The perfect music for: jumping on a trampoline beneath a crescent moon, thinking about your life and the world with an energized, lighthearted perspective.

Sufjan Stevens, “Carrie & Lowell”

Master of falsetto and the ethereal, Sufjan Stevens proves his graceful brilliance once again with “Carrie & Lowell,” an album that is simultaneously haunting, other-worldly, and tenderly human.

The record’s title is a direct reference to Stevens’ deceased mother, Carrie, and her second husband, Lowell, Stevens’ stepfather. Raised by his father and stepmother, Stevens spent limited time with his mother throughout his childhood. Their unique relationship and related themes, such as distant love, lonely grief, and the mysteries of the afterlife, are explored throughout the album.

In the opening track “Death With Dignity,” Stevens shares his hesitancy about publicly displaying the complicated feelings he has for his mother, saying, “I’m afraid to be near you / And I don’t know where to begin.” The latter lyric serves as a refrain throughout the song, reinforcing that trepidation. After alluding to their substance abuse issues, he goes on to absolve Carrie from the assumed pain she caused him (“I forgive you, mother”).

As much of Stevens’ work is laced with a subtle Judeo-Christian ribbon, “John My Beloved” exposes his relationship with the divine and gives the listeners a personal glimpse into Stevens’ spiritual life. He admits his sinful tendencies, and expresses his desperation for Jesus.

Supported by gentle notes of acoustic guitar so delicate and cohesive that the sound is occasionally reminiscent of a harp, this album is saturated with bite-sized riddles and obscure allusions, making you want to replay the record over and over again in an attempt to decipher them.

The perfect music for: going on a coastal bike ride just before sunrise.

Father John Misty, “I Love You, Honeybear”

Like a dark roasted Arabica coffee, “I Love You, Honeybear” is toasty and soulful with a faintly bitter aftertaste. While Josh Tillman’s previous album, “Fear Fun,” (his first album released under the pseudonym Father John Misty) is playful and for the most part devoid of any sentimental connection, “Honeybear” is sensual, alluring, and aching with emotion.

Both lyrically and sonically, Tillman gives us a behind-the-scenes tour of his romance with his wife Emma Tillman, a photographer. In “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” he speaks to her regally unembellished character: “Emma eats bread and butter / Like a queen would have ostrich and cobra wine.” Towards the end of the track, Tillman reveals how he would lie waiting in her bed as she went to “cheat [her] way through film school.” These specific flashes of her personality shine through, concisely revealing a multidimensional woman whom the listeners themselves grow to admire.

In addition to his endearing verse, Tillman examines the tedium of American consumerism with “Bored in the USA” and commercialized, exploited religion in “Holy S–t.” His apathetic wit found in the latter songs contrasts well with the sugared love songs that the album boasts.

The melodies are fluid and lullaby-ish, mystical and majestic, like swans gliding across a lake. Tillman’s “Honeybear” is truly an amorous masterpiece, topped off with just the right amount of thought-provoking, cerebral acidity.

The perfect music for: sipping on ginger tea with your significant other at the top of a forested waterfall.