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Album review: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

On the surface, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett seem an unlikely couple. However, Vile’s melodic and entrancing drawl combined with Barnett’s sharp and cunning lyricism are a welcome collaboration in their debut duet record, Lotta Sea Lice. Together they explore their respective song-writing processes, discussing how they deal with the seemingly endless chaos in the world and what they find to be truly important. From one of the songs on the album, “Continental Breakfast,” the listener gets the sense the duo may have written every song of the album over sausage, eggs and burned coffee in the lobby of a Hampton Inn.

The tracks composing Lotta Sea Lice are not the typical romance-infused, chummy duets that one immediately expects from a full-length album released by a couple of indie-rock performers who often write about their romantic lives. Rather, we are given what appears to be a conversation between two respected artists of the same craft. Vile often offers some vague, ambiguous notion that Barnett will quickly reply to with poetic bluntness. In the opening track, “Over Everything,” the typically deadpan duo stretch their vocal chords as they sing about music’s role in their current lives and how it seems to be the immediate solution to whatever may be troubling them on any given day.

While at times the album might feel as if it was thrown together in just a few minutes, we are ultimately given a coherent stream of deep and measured thought from two of the prominent lyricists of modern alternative music. Any listener can enjoy the sense of fun these two had making this record, which is broadcast in their various covers of each other and of Jen Coher (Barnett’s Wife)’s, “Fear Is Like a Forest.” There is a fleeting feeling underlying the fun, as both singer-songwriters address their own busy lives touring around the world. Their friendship truly is one that is “intercontinental,” but is also clearly cherished, which is what made this album possible.

Enjoy Lotta Sea Lice for what it is and extract the moments of brilliance that randomly sparkle in what is almost certainly a rare, one-off collaboration between two of your favorite indie singer-songwriters.

— johnr.wheeler@yahoo.com

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