Live in Portland October 20 | Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall
As two artists who have built careers on making music that often runs perpendicular to trends, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are, theoretically, a good musical match. Fortunately, they’re also a good match in reality as well. Lotta Sea Lice, their collaborative debut, manages to consistently nail the respective qualities that make them intriguing musicians, while still creating a unique, fully formed sound.
Vile’s instrumental intricacy and lilting voice are at full force, particularly on “Over Everything,” the first single released, and “Continental Breakfast,” a track that highlights the duo’s budding musical relationship. Barnett’s sleepy vocals and cutting imagery create a suitably lush backdrop and counterpoint, casting an entirely new light on Vile’s “Peepin’ Tom” (originally recorded for his 2011 solo record, Smoke Ring for my Halo) and drawing out an earnest delicacy on “Let It Go” that suits the pair well.
The album was recorded over the course of eight days across 15 months, with the pair trading songs intercontinentally until their touring schedules aligned. Along with similar musical dispositions, Vile and Barnett share a sly dryness that can transform instantly into sincerity. They are capable of digging into relatively simple tunes and pulling out the kernels that add depth, as on “Outta the Woodwork,” which could stand as a fine indie rock song, but is elevated by the country western tinge that the duo unearths.
“Fear is Like a Forest,” originally recorded by Barnett’s partner, Jen Cloher, dips into vintage Neil Young territory with a grimy guitar solo over the straight-ahead vocals. Barnett drops her typical up-and-down vocal stylings to slice through the dirt and remake the track in her own image. Another cover, “Untogether” is the duo’s take on Belly’s 1993 song and comes the closest to a duet in the purest sense on the album.
The pairing of these two singer-songwriters bathes in simplicity, proving again that the best can always find beauty in the smallest of places. Vile and Barnett will be touring together throughout the fall of 2017, accompanied by their back-up band, “The Sea Lice,” which features a revolving all-star line-up that includes Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag), Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint), Rob Laakso (The Violators, The Swirlies, Mice Parade) and Katie Harkin (Harkin, Sky Larkin and touring member of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Beasts). Lotta Sea Lice is the ideal culmination of two artists we can’t seem to get enough of, and it’s just as good as you thought it would be.