The Grammy-nominated Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett is arguably best known for her collaboration with Kurt Vile on the album Lotta Sea Lice (2017). I say arguably because longer-term fans will point to her acclaimed first album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015), and her equally feted recent album, Things Take Time, Take Time (2021). Barnett has approximated a latter-day Chrissie Hynde on these solo recordings with her mix of strident melodies and cautiously confessional lyrics.
Still, the chemistry between her and Vile seemed perfect, with their voices and guitarwork melding into something special. The video for their buoyant, breakthrough single “Over Everything” underscored their overlapping styles by mismatching the vocals and visuals: Barnett’s voice is heard when Vile is singing and playing and vice versa. The album cover further reflected their seemingly interchangeable musical identities.
Against this backdrop of fruitful collaboration and solo work, Barnett’s new album End of the Day: Music from the Film Anonymous Club marks a detour, if presumably not a permanent departure. Entirely instrumental in scope, it is the score for a documentary film on Barnett’s career titled Anonymous Club (2021), directed by Danny Cohen. Consisting of 17 tracks and lasting about 40 minutes, End of the Day is a muted affair with Barnett’s bright, muscular, and melodic guitarwork largely absent in favor of atmospheric tones and more slowly calibrated playing. Assisting her is Stella Mozgawa, a past collaborator, who provides a synth backdrop that enhances the somber mood.
I haven’t seen the documentary, though it likely has ample footage of Barnett playing and includes recorded material from her previous albums. End of the Day consequently appears to be designed to frame scenes and visual transitions with background music. Intriguingly, the tracks here, which are reportedly all improvised, might be thought of as private emotional and intellectual responses to her public-facing music and performance persona.
In this way, the album can be said to chart a psychoanalytic borderland between the conscious and the subconscious. Perhaps that is too grandiose, yet this record is purposefully quiet and forms a distinct meditative contrast with Barnett’s established oeuvre. Furthermore, in this wordless approach, one can piece together possible influences. Tracks like “Get on With It” and the title song “End of the Day” recall the late style of Tom Verlaine found on the albums Warm and Cool (1992) and Around (2006).
As a soundtrack, End of the Day will ultimately be a minor work in Barnett’s catalog. However, it does illuminate her capacity to lower the volume and explore a different register of ambient frequencies in her ongoing sound. This LP is fascinating for its introspective character, even if the key elements that have defined Barnett’s popular appeal are missing.
Indeed, given that this album constitutes a secondary reaction by Barnett to her preceding work, End of the Day may well stand as a record that first revealed a deeper and truer version of herself than we had ever known.