Courtney Barnett – another Great Southern Land story-teller

Courtney Barnett began her recent Australasian, North American and European tour here in Auckland, playing to one of the most squeezed-in houses I have ever seen at The Kings Arms.

CB was everything I expected: Nonchalant, adept, witty, self-effacing.

Already familiar with her superb, but modestly reserved live performances at daytrotter (with band) and NPR (solo), her energetic performance at the Kings Arms was a surprise; turns out she was more than I expected.

While maintaining an exuberant chill, CB flopped and rocked, the entire band appearing to enjoy themselves thoroughly.

Courtney Barnett 17-09-14 Kings Arms Auckland. Photo InkEatsMan

Courtney Barnett 17-09-14 Kings Arms Auckland. Photo InkEatsMan

This elevated sonic performance was helped in no-small-measure by fourth band member for the tour, guitarist Dan Luscombe, who has a fine Oz pedigree, notably with Blackeyed Susans and Drone.

Will the real Courtney Barnett please stand up

Feeling the need to explain CB, popular press have thrown her into a ring of diverse comparisons: Jens Lekman (!), Eleanor Friedberger from Pitchfork; Rollingstone just don’t know what badge to pin on her: the Go-Betweens, Juliana Hatfield, Lou Reed, maybe Pavement, early Dylan, or possibly ‘some hybrid of Kimya Dawson and Kurt Cobain’.


However, she has rightly been touted by the same press for her matter-of-fact story-telling and, the droll charm of her lyrics – but I’m not sure if they really get that either – they fail to recognize CB’s affinity with Australia’s rich bedrock of fair-dinkum yarn-spinners.

With an unperturbed flair for stating the obvious, no matter how mundane, they are drawing us into their everyday lives with intimate conversations; at times tragic, often poignant, sometimes naive, invariably revealing, but always worth relating.

Mind your step though, its not in their nature to suffer pretension, neither fools, nor ‘try hards’. Their songs resonate with a familiarity that could be our own, or at least, with sentiments that should be our own.

I wrote about some Australian bands back in April this year, including the “laconic Barnett” and others who are “full of enterprise, talent and independence”. I’ve also written previously about the Aussie character; that bunch of “bloody larrikins” who “thrive on taking the mick out of each other”.

Onya mate.

Courtney Barnett 17-09-14 Kings Arms Auckland. Photo InkEatsMan

Courtney Barnett 17-09-14 Kings Arms Auckland. Photo InkEatsMan

This bedrock of Australian story-telling is a dual thread of indigenous and immigrant: from the Aboriginal ‘Dreaming‘ to the bush poetry of Bango Paterson; from Nino Cullota’s (John O’Grady’s) They’re a Weird Mob and ‘Sydney’s Dickens‘ Ruth Park, to Nick Cave.

The current overflowing of outstanding Australian music is bristling with their own vernacular.

Before I leave you with a few favourites, I’ll let C. J. Dennis introduce one of his own characters from 1917 – who I reckon can still speak for them all…

Jist to intrajuice me cobber, an’ ‘is name is Ginger Mick –
A rorty boy, a naughty boy, wiv rude ixpressions thick
In ‘is casu’l conversation, an’ the wicked sort o’ face
That gives the sudden shudders to the lor-abidin’ race.

The Cannanes

There’s sleazy sun-kissed blondes, jeans, white tee-shirts, stuck in the traffic, half way down King Street, you wrote in the pavement, “people suck”; now it’s paved over now…


Dick Diver

I’ll see you at one by the river… I know I’m here too early, but know there’s all those girlie things you got to do… I’m sure she wouldn’t mind if I started on this wine, she’ll be hear any second no doubt… I got the wrong day, or I got the wrong girl, I’ll give her just one more ring…


Goons of Doom

Well you say I don’t give enough of a stuff, but nobody likes a try-hard… I’m losing all me hair, but I won’t shave me head, ’cause nobody likes a try-hard…


Full Ugly

I’m not hangin’ around, I had to go to town, I had something to do…



I don’t wanna be anyone new, don’t wanna spend my life thinkin’ of you, you give me the shits, yeah, you bore me to bits…


Scott & Charlene’s Wedding

“At midnight I head down to my job at the nightclub, well my title’s security, but I don’t think I do that much, and the girls they ask me about my accent, and I just say put ya cigarettes out, they just keep doin’ what ever they want, and I don’t know what to say… I’m fakin’ it in New York City…”


Eddy Current Suppression Ring

“…I can be a jerk, but deep down inside, I want us to work… please let me put my arms around you, and accept that I am sorry… and you are sorry too.”


Australian Indie Bands and Labels – an ANZAC Day Special

Today is ANZAC Day, while we remember those Australian and New Zealanders who’ve had the unfortunate experience of living through or fighting wars, those who have served to protect our and others independence, it’s worth taking time to appreciate our freedom of expression; so hats off to our neighbours – we might give each other a ‘bit of stick’ every now and then – but we can only do this ’cause we’re such good mates. Here are a few small Oz record labels and artists that are full of enterprise, talent and independence.

Milk-RecordsMilk Records

Milk Records is a Melbourne label, home to half-a-dozen artists, including the prolific Kingdoms and the talented Jen Cloher. Cloher has recorded solo and with a band – her 2013 In Blood Memory included Milk Records rising star Courtney Barnett. If you haven’t heard the laconic Barnett yet, you soon shall – or should. Really. With press hotter than a mid-summer arvo at St Kilda – from Pitchfork to the Guardian – and recent international deals in the US and England, you best come out from that shady rock.

Courtney Barnett

Jen Cloher

Bedroom-Suck-RecordsBedroom Suck Records

Bedroom Suck Records are based in Brisbane and have a small but impressive roster, including Brisbane’s Per Purpose and Melbourne’s Full Ugly, they are also the original home to Melbourne’s Scott & Charlene’s Wedding – now New York based and gathering fans by the ute-load – and this lot:

Blank Realm

Blank Realm are a Brisbane family affair; siblings Daniel (drums & vocals), Sarah (synths & vocals) and Luke Spencer (bass), plus Luke Walsh (guitar). They have a number of releases, but this year’s Grassed Inn will find its way into many ‘best off 2014’ lists. Mark my words. Blank Realm are on my ‘must see’ list, they are monstrously good live by all accounts and I have every reason to believe that.


Boomgates are somewhat of a Oz super-group: Dick Diver’s Steph Hughes; Eddy Current Suppression Ring vocalist Brendan Suppression; Twerps bassist Rick Milovanovic; Deep Heat’s guitarist Gus (Angus) Lord; and Shaun Genius (Gionis), Trial Kennedy drummer. They have released a number of singles, including a split 7″ with The Bats (December Ice/Widow Maker), and the album Double Natural. I’m really stoked Boomgates are as good as I wanted them to be, since gathering up all of Eddy Current Suppression Rings albums, the thought of a silent Brendan was too much. It’s sweet to hear him ‘singing’ – and Steph Hughes is his perfect foil.

Bon-Voage-RecordsBon Voyage Records

Also from Brisbane are Bon Voyage Records, a small, young label, who appear to understand that despite the ability to communicate and sell digital media internationally online, emerging labels like this survive by selling to local fans, making a fist of gig merchandise, specialising in short-run and limited editions, and taking advantage of resurgent interests in vinyl and cassettes.

Martyr Privates

With bands like Martyr Privates on the books, it’s hard to imagine the good-word not spreading far and wide. Martyr Privates are Brisbane locals, this self-titled song is from their debut 7″ single.

Ela-Siles-Bedroom-Suck-RecordsLets talk about Ela

Ela Stiles is a name that we will hear much more of in the future too – still a young-thing, Ela has a formidable catalogue, and appears to be finding her own voice with confidence.

The first track is from her long-time Sydney band Songs, centred around the core duo of Ela (Bass, Vocals) and Max Doyle (Guitar, vocals), the first Songs band included  Jeff Burch and Steve Uren of Kiwi band This Night Creeps. Retreat, is from their 2009 self-titled debut – back when they exuberantly credited the influence of John Cale, The Velvet Underground, Television, and Galaxie 500 – although “no influence is as strong as The Clean, New Zealand’s greatest exponents of the Dunedin sound.” Their debut 2008 EP even had a song called Keeping it Clean. Good start then.


This second track from Songs, Boy/Girl is taken from 2013’s Malabar album. By now the Kiwi connection has been lost, replaced with a couple of fair-dinkum Aussies: Cameron Emerson-Elliot (Youth Group) on guitar and on drums Ben James (Talons).


Apparently as far back as 2001 Ela was considering a solo recording – enlisting Melbourne musicians, Nisa Venerosa (Fabulous Diamonds) and Karl Scullin (Kes Band) – but the trio clicked and Bushwalking was formed. This first track is from their 2012 debut First Time.


This next track is from 2013’s No Enter.


Due for release in May 2014 is Ela’s debut solo, to be released by Bedroom Suck Records it is entirely her voice; listen, you will hear what I mean about her finding confidence. BSR says side one will will be the likes of Kumbh Mela, side two being drone versions – no effects, but layered versions of the vocal – the second track is a single edit version; Drone Transitions.

Goons of Doom

I’m going to leave you with a bunch of loveable, irreverent larrikins. These Goons are bleached, forever 18, and are turning out songs any-time they are not surfing – as easily as they open a stubbie. The Goons have an enormous catalogue spanning many years, some brilliant, some daft, some hilarious – have a listen to Clean for Jesus:  “…I think I’m passin’ out, I think I’m passin’ out, I just saw Jesus sweeping up the floor. I think that he should know, it’s garbage night tonight, can you get him to take the bins out, when he goes…”

Goons of Doom