Courtney Barnett has a literary fascination for intimately specific images in her songwriting. In her previous work, the routines of making breakfast in “How to Boil an Egg” and scoping out houses in “Depreston” have given way to daunting existential questions. The Australian musician stresses over finances and urges herself to “remember some people have real problems” as she’s doing laundry or calculates how much she’s saving on coffee by making it at home while reckoning with mortality and permanence.
On her new album, Things Take Time, Take Time, these hallmark domestic details are redirected with a more uplifting slant, focusing instead on the comforting vulnerability of optimism. The edge still remains — across the album’s lyrics, she contemplates dying stars, the anxieties of capitalism, and the pain of dealing with depression and isolation —, but it’s newly tempered with refreshing positives and an overarching lighthearted sound.
In the opener “Rae Street”, we greet the LP with Barnett having difficulty waking up in the morning and deciding that “unless we see some change, I might change my sheets today”. Though she muses that “time is money, and money is no man’s friend”, she’s still looking up, sending her “best wishes with the wind” and reminding herself, “don’t worry so much about it”. On “Sunfair Sundown”, the theme of moving houses that features throughout her music is funneled into congratulating a friend on getting the keys to their new place.
Barnett has noticed this shift and draws a distinct contrast between Things Take Time, Take Time and her most recent album, 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel. “I would talk about how [the last album] was vulnerable, but in hindsight, I feel like it was very guarded,” she says. “This one actually feels vulnerable.”
A piece of that, for sure, is this album’s connection to the Tell Me How You Really Feel cycle, which she ended feeling a sense of burnout that drove her to create Things Take Time, Take Time while quarantining at home in Melbourne and living alone for the first time in her life. What results are an array of kinder, softer songs that still fit cozily into her output.
The musical palette of Things Take Time, Take Time is different instrumentally, too. Barnett brought in her friend and longtime collaborator Stella Mozgawa to produce the album, which feels buoyant compared to her grungy, guitar-forward earlier releases. “Here’s the Thing” uses drum machines and a delicately-distorted guitar to craft a dreamy, whimsical mood, like a karaoke night that nevertheless isn’t dampened by Barnett’s outright confession that “I feel insecure.” Lauded single “Before You Gotta Go” maintains a folkier influence, turning an upsetting argument into a peace offering.
Perhaps the most significant turn stylistically is “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight”, an unabashed love song that eschews the shyness of “Anonymous Club” and “Sunday Roast”, two of its few predecessors in Barnett’s body of work. Laced with her trademark deadpan, the track illustrates the awkward, hilarious nervousness of confessing feelings to someone. “Is now an okay time to tell you that I like you?” she asks, all while reassuring herself that her drama is minuscule in the eyes of the universe and insisting to the other person that she doesn’t want to “bore the brains out of your head.”
Barnett stays self-aware throughout “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight”, spinning her well-trod subject matter into cheekily-elaborate lyrics like “all my fears collided when our mutual friend confided that there’s a 99% chance that it’s requited.” At times, the feelings are so strong that they even break through the carefully-constructed aloofness and rhymes in favor of recognizable axioms. “If loving you’s a crime, then gimme those front-page headlines,” Barnett finally admits. It’s a simple line, verging on cliche, that nevertheless shows she isn’t afraid to experiment with the familiar.
In short, Things Take Time, Take Time marks a turn toward openness and positivity for Courtney Barnett, who has previously thrived on precisely communicating anxieties. “The world is so pointless, and so fucked in so many ways, but there’s so many beautiful little small moments happening,” she notes. And whether Barnett is finding solace in the sun coming up, the leaves turning green, or a friend’s happiness, the beautiful minutiae of Things Take Time, Take Time forces you, in her own words, “to see flowers in the weeds.”