Courtney Barnett


Milk! Records/Mom + Pop

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Apple Music


Courtney Barnett return with instrumental album End of the Day, out September 8

In May of 2021, Courtney Barnett and collaborator/producer Stella Mozgawa had just handed in the final masters for Barnett’s third album Things Take Time, Take Time when they met up with filmmaker Danny Cohen in a Melbourne studio. Barnett had been experimenting with new gear, making meditative long-form pieces for an audience of one. Mozgawa had just bought an Oberheim OB6 which became the center-piece of her setup, feeding sounds through a tape echo. And for his part, Cohen had a near-finished documentary, Anonymous Club, a candid portrayal of the travails and hard-fought personal triumphs of Barnett’s ascent to international indie rock adulation. Now, he just needed a score.

As Cohen played the final edit of his film that day, Barnett and Mozgawa improvised with one guiding principle—nothing too maudlin, obvious, or instructive, nothing to tell the future audience how they should be feeling about Barnett’s life onscreen. Anonymous Club offers up a plethora of Barnett’s music, documenting her charged live sets and her start-and-stop-and-search songwriting process. The pieces she and Mozgawa made that day, though, float around the edges of the finished scenes, coloring the proceedings much like the grain of Cohen’s 16mm film. Really, one could watch Anonymous Club and never know that Barnett made extra music for it.

 A year passed and Barnett found she liked listening to what they had made in Melbourne, putting it on and existing within its reflective gaze. Might this be more than the instrumental music of a film? She began sorting through the panoply of little instrumentals like amoebic puzzle pieces, figuring out how she might adjust them ever so slightly until they fit together into a complete and compelling picture. Almost everything on the result of that work—a seamless series of 17 instrumental improvisations she now calls End of the Day —stems from the film. But this is soundtrack as sound-art collage, reordering and reframing the past to shape and share a different story about who we have been and what we might become.

Anonymous Club is a cautiously redemptive film, its happy ending more about the possibilities of fulfillment and stability than the things themselves. For three years, as she toured the globe and amassed awards and slogged through interviews, Barnett recorded voice memos for Cohen, candidly documenting abiding agitation and humble aspirations to be inspired or even just content. The documentary is a powerful interrogation of what we assume about other people, particularly the artists who color the black-and-white lines of our own skeletal lives. Why wouldn’t baring your brain to 2,000 strangers every night feel great?

End of the Day operates a little like Anonymous Club itself. Best heard as a whole, it passes overhead as an unstable sky, toggling repeatedly among rainclouds and sunshine and liminal uncertainty. “Start Somewhere” is a foggy invocation, a repeated broken chord rising through the obdurate haze. The title track seems to tease out the span of the horizon itself, Barnett’s strums and single notes disappearing into Mozgawa’s drone as they try to survey infinity. “B to C” is vaguely irascible, “River” loosely aspirational. Like Mary Lattimore, Harold Budd, and Loren Connors, Barnett and Mozgawa achieve emotional maximalism through musical minimalism. That is, they say everything by playing as little as possible. By the time Barnett reaches the melodic wonder “Get on With It,” slowly brushing chords like she’s petting a cat, it seems like you’ve experienced years of feeling in less than 40 minutes.

After all, these tracks do not simply lull or soothe or sate; like Barnett’s rock songs, they wordlessly ask hard questions of our softest parts, wondering what it is we really find there. End of the Day reaffirms the complicated terrain that Barnett has been shaping as a songwriter for a decade now, the way that playfulness and anger, despair and wonder, apathy and anxiety commingle every day of a lifetime. End of the Day is a mirror, first reflecting the emotional response of Barnett as she saw herself onscreen and now reflecting the listener’s core as they encounter these beautiful and brooding states of being. It is difficult to hear these pieces and not consider yourself in them, to evaluate where, who, and what you are. If you’ve seen Anonymous Club, or simply ever lived, you understand that such a process is often interesting. It is not at all ignorable.