Historically, collaborative albums have generally been reserved for ageing legends. Lou Reed & Metallica. Jay Z & Kanye. Eno & Byrne. Eno & Fripp. Eno & Cale. But if you haven’t got a string of successful glam albums and the invention of ambient music under your belt, these can be notoriously tricky. This, however seems like such an obvious pairing that surely it couldn’t go wrong: two laidback young rockers that have captured a generation with kooky attitudes and finessed guitar work, uniting to break new ground.
At first, it certainly feels more Kurt than Courtney. There’s disappointingly little of the energy and rawness of Barnett’s 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Feedback-driven, romping solos are swapped for an altogether slower, darker, fleshier sound. But it’s not a full on Vile-esque reverie either; the pair hit a bizarre middle ground that’s somehow a bit… Oasis. This is particularly notable on reworked old Barnett track ‘Outta the Woodwork’ and Jen Cloher (Barnett’s wife) cover ‘Fear is Like a Forest’.
The same is true lyrically. Both Barnett’s flooring wit and Vile’s introspective musings are blunted and blended, and the result is neither one thing nor the other. Major themes include writer’s block, touring agonies, and differing tastes in breakfast. Top stuff.
But this is what actually makes the album so appealing. The whole LP is a dialogue, a pally chatter, between two artists – actually, scrap that – two friends. Thoughts and feelings are thrown back and forth in the form of soothing riffs and monotone call and response. It’s honest and intimate, cosy and wholesome. And as flies on the wall, we’re invited to join the conversation. Though it may not be quite as large as the sum of their parts, both are hugely comfortable with what they’re doing. They’ve very little to prove and they’re having fun not proving it.
Artist: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. Label: Matador/Marathon Artists/Milk!. Top Tracks: Let It Go; On Script. For Fans Of: The War on Drugs; Father John Misty. 45 minutes