It’s fitting that Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett opens her third album by staring out the window. Backed by an easygoing guitar strum and a simple drum machine pattern, “Rae Street,” the new record’s first single, blends humor and pathos with a laidback optimism as she details a lazy day spent gazing at the suburban humanity of her immediate neighborhood.
Be it her thoughts on a passing garbage truck or Barnett’s depiction of a frazzled mother attempting to corral rambunctious children, the track is a strong reminder of her ability to make the mundane feel profound. Digging into the chorus of “Rae Street,” Barnett declares that “Time is money / And money is no man’s friend.”
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It’s a notion that would feel right at home in a Bob Dylan song, which is no surprise given Barnett’s work netted her a 2016 Grammy nomination for best new artist and has frequently earned her favorable comparisons to the Pulitzer Prize-winning songwriter. But just as Dylan’s universal tunes were often inspired by a specific moment, the music that populates “Things Take Time, Take Time” is firmly rooted in the last year.
It was a period that found Barnett in lockdown at a friend’s apartment in Melbourne, where she was also dealing with a breakup and watching as Australia endured a historic, horrific wildfire season. A set of circumstances seemingly tailor-made for a bummer of a record, it instead inspired a remarkably upbeat, if sonically subdued, return for an artist who has rapidly become a new fixture of the rock festival circuit.
Following on the heels of her exceptional 2015 debut, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit” and its worthy 2018 follow-up, “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” Barnett’s third album is notably sparser in its orchestration than its predecessors. Forced by pandemic logistics to eschew her normal studio band, Barnett instead created what essentially amounts to a joint effort between her and Warpaint drummer Stella Mozgawa, who also co-produced the record.
The result are songs that are often slow but never boring. Impeccably skilled in the art of deadpan delivery, Barnett’s spoke-sung musings are as sharp as ever on tracks like “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight,” where she genuinely sounds at ease as she reasons, “Stars in the sky / Are going to die / Eventually / It’s fine.” Ostensibly focused on a love interest, the song also serves as a quiet yet timely meditation on the value of not holding onto your regrets.
Likewise, “Before You Gotta Go” could be seen as a song about Barnett’s former partner, guitarist Jen Cloher, but its endearing message — not wanting the last words that you said to someone to be of an unkind nature — resonates far beyond its plausible roots as a track penned in the wake of a romance ending. Elsewhere, a downright quirky synth line is employed as the backbone of “Sunfair Sundown,” which feels akin to taking a leisurely afternoon walk with Barnett as she offers stream-of-consciousness commentary on the scenes around her.
That “Things Take Time, Take Time” is able to genuinely uplift without ever sacrificing an iota of Barnett’s trademark caustic wit alone makes it a viable contender as the Aussie’s strongest work to date. Highlighting her numerous talents, which include being a gifted poet, a formidable musician and an astute empath, Barnett’s new record is a testament to the value of taking things slowly and another high-water mark in a career seemingly destined for many more.
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