Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s duet album Lotta Sea Lice a laid-back gem

Lotta Sea Lice, a full-length release by Courtney Barnett (above left) and Kurt Vile, perfectly pairs her raspy drawl with his slacker twang.
Lotta Sea Lice, a full-length release by Courtney Barnett (above left) and Kurt Vile, perfectly pairs her raspy drawl with his slacker twang.PHOTO: MATADOR RECORDS

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile's duet album's laid-back vibe is tinged with kooky observations

Duet albums don't come so often these days, much less from among the indie rock ilk, so it is a welcome surprise to hear the collaborative full-length release by Australian troubadour Courtney Barnett and American psych-country singer Kurt Vile.

It is the first new album by Barnett since her feted 2015 debut, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, which earned a Best New Artist nomination at last year's Grammy Awards.

The pairing of their voices works extremely well, with Vile's slacker twang a perfect complement to Barnett's raspy, sometimes lazy, drawl.

While there is a laid-back feel to the duets, the songwriting chops are anything but dull.

Opening track and early single Over Everything, for example, starts out with endearing country vibes as the pair trade verses then it blows up into an extended alt-rock jam towards the end.

They're a lyrically kooky pair, peppering the songs with wry and offbeat observations.

"I cherish my intercontinental friendships/We talk it over continental breakfast," sings Barnett on Continental Breakfast, a slightly meta take on their collaboration and status as touring mates.

  • Lotta Sea Lice, a full-length release by Courtney Barnett (above left) and Kurt Vile, perfectly pairs her raspy drawl with his slacker twang.

    FOLK/INDIE ROCK/COUNTRY

    LOTTA SEA LICE

    Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

    Matador/ Marathon Artists/ Milk!

    4 stars

Later on in the same song, they muse on their common insecurities. "I walk like a bruised ego along shorefront property un-owned to me," Vile croons. "But I'm feelin' inferior on the interior, don't ya see," Barnett answers back.

They cover each other's material, adding a new, robust feel to Vile's Peepin' Tomboy, renamed here as Peepin' Tom, and giving Barnett's Out Of The Woodwork, renamed Outta The Woodwork, a dark, country-like shroud.

Then there's the rendition of Fear Is Like A Forest, which adds to the melancholic feel of the original sung by Barnett's wife, Australian singer-songwriter Jen Cloher; and a charming, dual harmony cover of Untogether, a 1990s alt-rock classic by American indie elders Belly.

The recording is mostly raw, in line with their lo-fi sensibilities. Neither Barnett nor Vile is known for over-producing his or her works, so the mostly acoustic-driven work sounds warm and organic, with nary a synthesizer in sight.

The backing band, The Sea Lice (hence the album name), are also stellar. Let It Go, for example, has some unconventional rhythms by Australian drumming vet Jim Ronald White that adds a jazzy dimension to an otherwise straightforward tune.

It is a big coincidence that their musical pairing has produced another Courtney and Kurt duo in alternative rock, a la the late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain and his widow, Hole singer and actress Courtney Love.

Time will tell if this collaboration will result in more albums or if this is a one-off project. But as Lotta Sea Lice shows, the pairing adds a new dimension to both their artistry, so here's hoping for more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Duets that are twice as nice'. Print Edition | Subscribe