Track Review: “Small Talk” by Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett has a genuine love for music that is apparent in the wholesome smile that she often wears in interviews and performances. Of course, this is nothing special; painters love painting, swimmers love swimming, scientists love science, and water is wet. What sets Barnett apart though, is her ability to share her love for music with others. Generally, this radiance shines the brightest in videos of her performing, where you can see her having fun, but I also feel this strong energy on her latest track, “Small Talk.”

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Source: Andrew Brownbill/AP

“Small Talk” came from the sessions for her last album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, which explored pertinent feminist ideas on songs like “Nameless, Faceless” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.” With its conversational nature and seemingly ordinary subject matter, “Small Talk” is a laid back stroll of a song. The premise is simple and relatable: getting stuck in painful casual conversation with someone as you wait for a friend to arrive. The chorus is also straightforward, consisting of the same line being repeated, “I’m waiting here for you.”

Barnett’s half-spoken half-sung delivery of the lyrics may give off heavy slacker vibes, but this belies the skillful playfulness of the instruments going on. The loose quality of the framework laid down by the sturdy bass and percussion leaves just enough room for the guitar and keys to fill everything out with some groovy improvisations. The way chords and little lines are thrown in feels like a call and response between the instruments and the vocals. On twitter Barnett admits the song was tracked live and she had only just shown it to the band. You can even hear her laughing, calling out changes, and making up lyrics on the spot. This adds to the overall unscripted live feel of the song.

“Small Talk” ends with a laugh. Something about being stuck with someone in meaningless conversation is funny. Even if the person you converse with is annoying, at least you have a story to tell afterwards. “Small Talk” isn’t an epic anthem or a heartbreaking ballad; it’s easy listening regarding the subtleties of life. The trick which is achieved splendidly here, and which is not easy to pull off, is making ordinary day-to-day happenings feel fresh by injecting some love of fun into them.

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