Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice

I’ve never been much of a fan of Kurt Vile, whose slacker aura has always struck me as contrived. I have been very much a Courtney Barnett fan, although I think the Australian makes better songs than albums. I did not have high hopes for their joint venture – my gut said his vibe would take precedence, neutralizing Ms. Barnett’s charms.

Fortunately, my gut has been wrong lately. Lotta Sea Lice sounds remarkably evenhanded in its contributions. Vile is thought of as the virtuoso of the two, but a recurring highlight across these nine mostly sauntering tracks is the duo’s winding guitar interplay. Their telekinesis extends to vocals – on standouts like “Over Everything” Barnett and Vile don’t trade lines so much as complete each other’s sentences. That six-minute opener conveys the organic vibe of The Clean, a feel that returns on closer “Untogether,” the Belly cover that closes the record.

Vile’s voice moves foreground on two slightly askew country tracks (“Blue Cheese” and “Continental Breakfast”), but my personal faves are a pair of Crazy Horse/Eleventh Dream Day slow burns – the Barnett-driven “Fear Is Like a Forest” (written by her partner Jen Cloher) and “Outta the Woodwork,” a Barnett-penned Vile showcase which plays like a vaulted Dream Syndicate treasure.

Lotta Sea Lice notably lacks a snappy Barnett radio ditty like “Dead Fox” from her 2015 breakthrough album. Courtney rightly bristles at the slacker tag with which she’s also been saddled occasionally. The woman has no shortage of drive – witness her relentless touring schedule. She’s simply intent on following her own muse, commercial implications be damned. The two consciously placed Barnett’s name first to avoid trading on the fame on another Kurt and Courtney. When the “feature” track runs more than six minutes – with none clocking in under four – it’s pretty clear mass appeal isn’t an overriding concern.

For that matter, Lotta Sea Lice hardly seems like a logical move at this juncture of either artist’s career. It reminds me of a low-key, and very good, ’70s stoner rock album. While I can find several better individual songs scattered across Barnett’s catalog, this is her most satisfying album. I’d place it comfortably atop Vile’s output too, even if his fans will surely disagree – if they can summon the energy between puffs of weed.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile
Lotta Sea Lice