The Essential Courtney Barnett

Barnett constructs tunes of effortless lyricism in the studio (Photo by Tajette O’Halloran)

Even though she is a relatively new artist, Courtney Barnett’s fan base is a devoted one—connecting with the songwriter through her revealing and relatable lyrics, but also latching onto her straight-up rocking live performances. With influences audibly rooted in 1990s-era grunge and other forms of guitar-driven rock, Barnett’s songs offer the best of dysfunctional pop music with meaning.

“You can’t overlook how much that [music] creeps into your bones regardless of how good it actually is or what it means,” Barnett said of her musical influences. “I think sometimes it’s just that memory, but a lot of those songs have audible, lyrical, relatable stuff that happens to be kind of poppy. Like dirty pop. Like something that’s catchy, but still a little bit f*cked up.”

Check out LIW’s full interview with Courtney Barnett

With that in mind, here are seven must-listen Courtney Barnett songs for beginners.

“Avant Gardener”

A Sea of Split Peas, 2015

Barnett’s dreamy exploration of what happens when you find ambition, and it fails miserably. Partly delivered in Dylan-esque spoken word, the song is the true story of a day when Barnett decided to pull herself out of a bed-ridden funk to do some gardening, before ending up in the hospital due to suffering an asthma-induced panic attack.

“Kim’s Caravan”

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, 2015

This is a heavy epic both in terms of lyrical tone and musical bent. The song conveys the world’s dire environmental straits in a way that, frankly, can make the listener lose all hope, culminating in a feedback-rich guitar assault that transforms the hopelessness into pure rage.

“Three Packs A Day”

Non-album single, 2016

A jaunty confessional where Barnett reveals her addiction to, not cigarettes, but Mi Goreng, Australia’s version of Ramen instant noodles. She sings, “I’m down to three packs a day, I sneak away to find a kettle / I withdraw from all my friends and their dinner plans / I’m sick of lentils” in a song instantly relatable to anyone whose financial situation constantly sends them back to the noodle pack.

“Pedestrian At Best”

Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, 2015

A brash, scathing cut that sees Barnett railing against hype, perception and expectation pressed upon her either by external forces or by her own self-criticisms. The jangled, almost stream-of-consciousness rambling of the verses gives way to the pointed kick of the chorus’ “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you.”

“City Looks Pretty”

Tell Me How You Really Feel, 2018

This melodic slice of post-grunge features Barnett’s view of the world after her reemergence following an extended self-imposed isolation. The driving melody carries the decidedly dark lyrics, giving way to a soothing outro that highlights Barnett’s filthy guitar mastery.


Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, 2015

A reflection on house hunting turns somber when Barnett imagines the long-lost life of the home’s previous owner. It closes with the repeated line, “If you’ve got a spare half a million, you could knock it down and start rebuilding,” sung in a comforting gloominess.

“Nameless, Faceless”

Tell Me How You Really Feel, 2018

The lead single off the latest album, the biting, raucous “Nameless, Faceless” growls with weaponized anger directed squarely at anonymous online abuse. It specifically skewers the male gaze of the digital age, lamenting that she holds “her keys between her fingers.”

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