Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett

Speedy Ortiz, Torres

Wed, July 22, 2015

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

Terminal 5

New York, NY

$25

Sold Out

This event is all ages

Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett
Mixing witty, often hilarious, occasionally even heartbreaking observations with devastating self-assessment, Courtney Barnett’s debut album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, cements her standing as one of the most distinctive and compelling voices in indie rock. These songs reveal not only an assured songwriter and guitar player, but also an artist who in just a few years has already proved highly influential.

Fueled by the nimble crunch of her guitar and the loose groove of the rhythm section, Courtney Barnett’s songs are wild and shaggy and wordy, her lyrics plainspoken and delivered like she’s making them up on the spot. The music is rooted in the slack jangle of the late 1980s and the early 1990s, which has prompted the adjective “slacker” from journalists and critics around the world. That word is fitting for tunes that sound like they only just roused themselves out of bed. As a description of Barnett’s work ethic and musical influence, however, “slacker” is all wrong.

Even just a few years into a solo career, she has already proved herself an idiosyncratic and boundary-smashing artist and a passionate advocate for the arts who is changing the face of indie rock in her native Australia and around the world. After leaving art-school in Hobart, Tasmania, Barnett moved to Melbourne and became a mainstay of the local scene. She paid her dues and honed her chops in short-lived garage outfits before playing lead guitar in the twang-psych band Immigrant Union (which featured Bob Harrow and the Dandy Warhols’ Brent DeBoer).

When she went solo, Barnett launched her own label, which she dubbed Milk! Records, to release her own material as well as music by some of Melbourne’s finest singers and songwriters. With the 2013 release of The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (which combined her first two self-released EPs), she embarked on an almost never-ending tour that took her to North America and Europe, barely stopping long enough to record her first true album.

Her songs may not sound tightly coiled, but they are carefully and exactingly structured. Her lyrics may ramble, but each word is carefully chosen. She is, however, no perfectionist. In fact, she may be an imperfectionist: Barnett strives to fine-tune her songs as much as possible, but she knows that their flaws—a missed note here, a flubbed line there—can make the music sound more human, more relatable, more sympathetic. “My songs follow me as a normal human with normal emotions,” she explains, “so there are great highs and great lows. They span everything in my life.”

Barnett and her band—which includes Dan Luscombe on guitar and the surprisingly nimble rhythm section of Bones Sloane on bass and Dave Mudie on drums—recorded the album at Head Gap Studio in Melbourne during the fall of 2014. “We’d start midday and work until quite early in the morning,” she says. “Of course, half the time is sitting around waiting for the engineer to get a mic into place or something like that.” The band used the downtime to take these songs apart and put them back together again. Nothing was taken on faith; every note and every word was parsed.

“We didn’t just go in and bang it out. We mucked around with it. There was the panic of not having the songs prepared, but I think that energy works for the album. And we were drinking a lot of coffee.” (The process was documented by photographer Tajette O’Halloran, whose images are included in the liner notes.)

Barnett took drastic measures to make sure every song came out as perfectly imperfect as possible. When “Pedestrian At Best” wasn’t working out in the studio, she took the backing tracks home with her and listened to them over and over and over, trying to get the right words to come out of her mouth. “I had some words on paper and a half-assed melody that I hated,” she recalls. “I rapped over it until I found something I was happy with. It’s an embarrassing process, though, and the first time I sang that song was when I recorded it. I had to make everyone leave the room, because I felt really vulnerable.”

No nerves are evident in the final take, which includes some of Barnett’s most incisively indecisive lyrics, crammed with internal rhymes, inside jokes, and stinging self-deprecation. “I must confess I’ve made a mess of what should be a small success, but I digress. At least I tried my very best… I guess.”

Writing these songs can be a drawn-out and nerve-wracking process, especially when she finds herself recording a song that she hasn’t written yet, but it pays off beautifully on Sometimes I Sit and Think. It’s a beguiling collection of songs that reveals her as an ambitious songwriter with an ear for clever turns of phrase and an eye for story-song details that are literate without being pretentious. Barnett even did the artwork and hand lettering for the liner notes, showcasing a whimsical style similar to indie comics or the sketches of Eric Chase Anderson (who does most of the sketches for his brother Wes’ films).

Now that these songs are on record, she will not stop tweaking and perfecting them. The more she lives with them—the more she plays them out, the more fans react to them—the more alive they sound to her, often disclosing new meanings and direr implications. “They keep revealing themselves,” she says. “They change from touring and recording. They morph and change form and can end up sounding completely different. I hope it’s like that forever.”
Speedy Ortiz
Speedy Ortiz
Attention came swiftly following Speedy Ortiz’s 2012 Sports EP on the Boston-centric label Exploding In Sound, and with good reason. Massachusetts-based songwriter/guitarist Sadie Dupuis’ knotty, lyrically dense songs were fully realized by her bandmates, with intricate guitar lines crisscrossing over Darl Ferm’s fluid bass and Mike Falcone’s precisely executed drumming in a way that was simultaneously catchy and jarring. After the success of its 2013 Best New Music-honored debut full-length Major Arcana, the band formalized its assault through a year and a half of relentless touring with bands in whose brainy-slash-brawny legacies it followed—among them Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Ex Hex, and The Breeders. In 2014, the band added guitarist Devin McKnight of the Boston-based post-punk group Grass Is Green, whose guitar parts both match and challenge Dupuis’.

Speedy Ortiz’s second proper album—Foil Deer, recorded at Rare Book Room in Brooklyn when the band wasn’t pushing forward on its hectic 2014 tour schedule—comes out on April 21, 2015. The songs represent a leap forward, possessing a lightness that mirrors Dupuis’s post-grad school outlook; they also have a deliberate nature to them, one that emanates from extra studio time and more experimentation with the band’s essential form. (Ferm contributes a few unexpected guitar parts; Falcone’s vocal harmonies zing in with more force.) Speedy Ortiz possesses big-tent rock swagger and punk’s restless yet intimate spirit in a way that makes the impulses seem identical; while the quartet can still command crowds at festivals like Primavera Sound and Pitchfork Music Festival, they also relish playing Boston’s teeming basements alongside the city’s next generation of bands. That willingness to push not just forward, but in all directions, makes Speedy Ortiz one of rock’s most exciting outfits.
Torres
Torres
TORRES knows the darkness. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter otherwise known as Mackenzie Scott waits until anything—an idea, an emotion, a memory—gnaws at her, tearing at her fingers and throat until she releases it in song. Her husky voice strains against its human biological constraints like a wild-eyed horse, whispering desperately “Don’t give up on me just yet” on one end and yowling about jealousy with unnerving intensity on the other. Following her self-titled debut in 2013, TORRES pushes herself to even noisier extremes on Sprinter, a punishing self-examination of epic spiritual and musical proportions.

“There’s so much I want to sing, but there’s no room for toothbrushes in poetry,” Scott murmurs in a resilient quaver while barely fingering the strings of her guitar on “The Exchange,” the final song and the heart of her second album. “That was the one that brewed the longest in my subconscious before I wrote it,” says Scott. “It was just a tough one, no getting around it.” The reason is right there in the beginning: she sings of her adopted mother losing her biological mother twice—once at birth and again when she discovered her adoption papers had been lost in a basement flood.

A keen awareness of Scott’s place in her family and in the world suffuses Sprinter, contributing to themes of alienation throughout. “You’re just a firstborn feeling left behind,” she sings on the ominously brewing “Son, You Are No Island,” which references one of Scott’s influences on this record: English poet John Donne’s 1624 poem Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. Scott’s tortured wailing circles spirals downward around itself, reflecting in a dark mirror the feelings of an adopted child.

“Whether it be abandonment, or fear of rejection, or perhaps inability to connect with people, comes down to that fear of isolation, of not being good enough,” she says. “Those are themes that have cropped up in my personal life, in my writing, and my mom can definitely understand that herself.”

But Scott escaped the confines of her churning mind in order to find herself by recording Sprinter in the market town of Bridport in Dorset, England; and then at the Bristol studio of Portishead’s Adrian Utley. With his guitar riffs and synthesizers lingering in the background like a lowland mist and PJ Harvey’s Robert Ellis and Ian Olliver on rhythm—the two fortuitously reuniting 23 years after the release of Dry, and in Scott’s 23rd year of living—she crafted a “space cowboy” record. “That’s as simply as I can say it,” says Scott, who cites inspirations as diverse as Funkadelic and Nirvana, Ray Bradbury and Joan Didion. “I wanted something that very clearly stemmed from my Southern conservative roots but that sounded futuristic and space-y at the same time.”

It seems like an odd thing to look for in the picturesque seaside green, rolling hills in the south of England, but Scott had never been there before, and as a stranger in a strange land she found what she was looking for: a lost childhood. Sprinter was recorded in a room that had formerly been used as a children’s nursery, which combined with the alien landscape fuels the self-searching that roils TORRES’ music. “Cowboy Guilt” perfectly encapsulates the contrast of Deep South conservatism with future sounds, juxtaposing George W. Bush parodies with wearing one’s Sunday best, bouncing on a mechanically whimsical melody.

After all, it was Scott’s Baptist upbringing 4,000 miles away in Macon, Ga. that gave her a voice in the first place. When her parents gave her an acoustic guitar at age 15, after giving her flute and piano lessons before that, she would sing church hymns at the local nursing home to get over her stage fright. As Scott moved away from organized religion toward something far more real and personal (“I still think of myself as quite God-fearing,” she says), she ranged farther from home, to Nashville—where she grappled with her outsider status yet again, faced with an insular music scene as hard to break into as if it were surrounded by England’s famous hedgerows—and then to New York, where she finally felt another semblance of being at home.

“Nashville was just a bit too small for me,” she says. “I don’t really like walking down the street and knowing everyone that I see along the way. I was raised in a small town and there are very special things about it, but I don’t prefer to live that way. I like the chaos of the city.”
Venue Information:
Terminal 5
610 W 56th St
New York, NY, 10019
http://www.terminal5nyc.com/