Courtney Barnett’s ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’ subtly pulls post-lockdown heartstrings

Cover of the new Courtney Barnett album Things Take Time, Take Time
Mom Pop/Courtesy

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Since the release of her 2018 sophomore record Tell Me How You Really Feel, Melbourne-based folk songwriter Courtney Barnett has kept her fans on the edge of their seats for over three years while awaiting her third LP. Most recognized by her distinctive vocal style — pairing beautiful melodies with moments of plain talking — and even quirkier lyricism (e.g. “The yard is full of hard rubbish, it’s a mess and/ I guess the neighbours must think we run a meth lab”), Barnett’s fanbase has had good reason to impatiently anticipate Things Take Time, Take Time.

Written throughout 2020 in the confines of a friend’s apartment during lockdown, the record pulls from the repetition and mundaneness that pandemic life had on us all. However, along with such repetitiveness, Barnett works in themes of heartbreak, loneliness and nostalgia without on-the-nose references to COVID-19 — granting the record a certain longevity that many other pandemic works are missing.

With the backdrop of minimalistic electric guitar riffs, cutesy drum machines and overall enticing production, the album perfectly paints emotive pictures of melancholy all while remaining easy and fun to listen to. Unquestionably distinct from the pent-up aggression of her previous record, the new LP harkens back to her earlier, more lighthearted works — though this time through an oftentimes sad, boredom-inspired lens.

Barnett kicks the record off with “Rae Street,” a track about the pessimism that arose out of life in isolation, along with the newfound, fearful interactions she was forced to have with strangers when returning to everyday life. Singing, “All our candles, hopes and prayers/ Though well-meanin’, they don’t mean a thing/ Unless we see some change/ I might change my sheets today,” Barnett perfectly transitions between lyrics surrounding the climbing COVID-19 death toll to the individual, basic tasks that felt near-impossible to achieve in isolation. Backed only by a rhythm guitar, a couple of shakers and a simple drum beat, the song’s instrumentation allows the listener to sink into Barnett’s hypnotic vocals and distressed lyricism.

On the upbeat “Turning Green,” Barnett is backed by a joyous sounding bassline and drum machine while singing about finding positives within negative spaces. With lyrics such as, “The trees are turning green/ In this springtime, lethargy/ Is kind of forcing you to see/ Flowers in the weeds,” Barnett once again artfully expresses somewhat universal feelings in a new, profound light of springtime foliage. Similarly on “Take It Day By Day” Barnett is backed by a bouncing bass guitar and clap track. Singing, “Don’t stick that knife in the toaster/ Baby, life is like a rollercoaster/ And there’s nothing wrong with getting oldеr,” Barnett seems to take inspiration from her earlier, more-comedic lyricism in a more sophisticated, progressed manner.

The highlight of the album is undoubtedly “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight,” a minimalistic track about falling in love and the self-doubt that comes along with such a predicament. Starting off with only vocals and electric guitar, the instrumentation quickly transitions to a four-piece band, allowing the track to fully shine in its near-perfect composition. With the lyrics, “All my fears collided/ When our mutual friend confided in me/ That there’s a ninеty-nine/ Percent chancе that it’s requited,” the song is definitively cute, but in a completely non-shallow sense. With her vocals sounding better than ever, paired with expectedly phenomenal songwriting, the track is a perfect representation of Barnett in her very best form.

While it may seem a bit late to release a record all about last year’s lockdown, somehow Barnett pulls it off with little-to-no struggle. Things Take Time, Take Time is an album that will live on far past COVID-19, all due to Barnett’s one-of-a-kind outlook not only on music but on life itself. With a tracklist that is incredibly easy to listen to and a universally appealing songwriting style, the record has only cemented Barnett further within the folk-rock ecosystem and is a conclusively enjoyable listen.

Ian Fredrickson covers music. Contact him at [email protected].