Collaboration records between musicians rarely create anything other than extremes. For every Watch The Throne there is a Lulu; for every Madvillainy there is a ‘Can’t Stop Partyin’ (Weezer/Lil Wayne). The announcement that Philadelphian indie rock royalty Kurt Vile and Aussie cult legend Courtney Barnett would be teaming up for a full length LP nonetheless thrilled the music world. Lotta Sea Lice justifies the hype: a perfect synthesis of their respective styles, with neither artist compromising any of their individuality.
Musically and sonically, the album is far closer to the Americana-infused stoner rock of Vile’s records, particularly Wakin On A Pretty Daze. While Barnett’s stream-of-consciousness lyrical journeys are offset against tight, grunge riffs, Vile’s songs meander and wander off, and have the gentle, lost feel of long summer days. ‘Over Everything’ is one such track, a quirky conversation between Vile and Barnett about the practicalities of songwriting. Vile remembers how he ‘liked to hear music blaring’ during his youth, and Barnett sharing this passion for ‘high decibels’.
The psychedelic shuffle of ‘Let It Go’, meanwhile, draws from Revolver-era Beatles, as Barnett and Vile fret about losing creative inspiration, concluding it cannot be forced (‘You’ve gotta let it go/Before it takes you over’). Undercurrents of anxiety and insecurity form the basis of many of Barnett and Vile’s observations. “I don’t want to give up but I kinda want to lie down”, Barnett sings over an intricate bluegrass guitar pattern. As much as creativity is for Vile and Barnett source of release and catharsis, it is equally dangerous, encouraging a search for perfection and clarity that does not exist.
‘Continental Breakfast’ is one of the album’s highlights, a country-rock jam in the vein of early Neil Young. Barnett touchingly pays tribute to her ‘intercontinental friendships’, and recalls joyful catch-ups over ‘continental breakfast’. Her presence is felt more and more as the album progresses, particularly on wayward, grungey ballad ‘On Script’, which – unusually for Barrett- loses it’s way somewhat halfway through. This owes partially to the brevity of the recording process: an 8-day song-writing and recording binge. The album ends on a reflective, poetically melancholy note, with a cover of Belly’s 1993 ballad ‘Untogether’. Singing in unison, the pair ruminates on the inevitability of breakups, reminding us ‘you can’t save the unsavably untogether’. As lyricists, Vile and Barnett both succeed through a kind of pensive, offbeat wisdom: an appreciation of the simple things, a commitment to unfiltered honesty. This is one ‘intercontinental friendship’ that music fans can get behind.