It is literally impossible not to love Courtney Barnett. Literally. Impossible. She has the awkward charm of a Woody Allen character (with the added benefit of being in no way associated with Woody Allen), an easygoing-ness that makes you want to be her best mate, and an absolute shitload of anxiety, panic and existential dread. It’s a winning combo.
After the success of last year’s Lotta Sea Lice, her collaborative album with Kurt Vile (imagine Courtney with slightly longer hair), Barnett is back with a new track of her own, the rambunctious ‘Nameless, Faceless’.
If the title of Barnett’s new single sounds sinister, that’s because it is – not that you’d know from the laid-back lilt of the verses, Barnett’s brand of slacker rock on typically breezy form. But beneath the chunky guitars is a muddle of fear and anxiety, Barnett considering the violent potential of men who sit at home and berate women online. A memorable insult from verse two is “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup/And spit out better words than you,” something Barnett brushes off with the perfect retort of “But you didn’t.”
At the track’s centre is a horribly catchy chorus that will surely create a strange unease when belted out by crowds at live shows: “I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Men are scared that women will laugh at them/I wanna walk through the park in the dark/Women are scared that men will kill them.” It’s a paraphrasing of a Margaret Atwood quote, something Barnett didn’t realise when she originally penned the track. Speaking to Pitchfork, she explains: “I’d seen it a couple times in things I was reading, and I remember being like, “That is the strongest point.” Because it’s so dumbed-down, it’s kind of funny—the way it flips is funny—even though it’s not a funny thing at all.”
Though it’s not funny, it is reality. The everyday nature of the underlying threat is expressed in Barnett’s casual, conversational tone. When she sings of holding her keys between her knuckles in case of an attack, she almost shrugs it off as just another part of being a safety-conscious woman in 2018.
While in the past, Barnett’s tracks have tended to deal with the minutiae of modern life, as well as the trials and tribulations of being an introvert, ‘Faceless, Nameless’ sees her broach a bigger issue with a new confidence. The self-deprecation can still be heard in the almost apologetic nature of her vocals, but the stomping chorus verges on the confrontational. Is this the dawn of an angrier, more righteous Courtney Barnett? We’ll have to wait to find out.
Barnett’s upcoming album Tell Me How You Really Feel is released May 18th.