by Patrick Fuller ’21
Collaboration has been a common theme in the music industry in 2017. In recent times, Lana Del Rey whipped up Lust for Life featuring artists like Stevie Nicks and Sean Lennon, while The Weeknd produced Starboy featuring Daft Punk, Future, and Kendrick Lamar.
It is easy to see that most of the popular, modern collaborations appear solely in the genres of rap or pop. However, that mold has been broken by the collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice by Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett.
To the general public, these names may seem insignificant. In the world of mainstream music, alternative rock takes a back seat to the high energy of pop and rap. Yet, Vile and Barnett are two of the most talented, traditional rock stars dominating the alternative scene right now.
Before the collaborative album, Vile gained fame through working as the lead guitarist for the band The War on Drugs and pursuing a solo career with his backing band, Violators. Combining influences like Neil Young and Tom Petty, Vile creates music that is both instrumentally brilliant and vocally unique. With a little help from the song “Pretty Pimpin,” his 2015 album, b’lieve i’m goin down… peaked at number 40 on the Billboard 200.
Meanwhile, Barnett is an Australian guitarist and singer known for her monotone sound and outlandish lyrics. Rising to fame in 2013 with the album The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, Barnett gradually evolved her individual sound to form her acclaimed 2015 album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.
This masterpiece granted Barnett four awards from eight nominations at the 2015 ARIA Music Awards as well as nominations for Best New Artist at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards and International Female Solo Artist at the 2016 Brit Awards.
All being said, Lotta Sea Lice is a combination of the two artists’ styles. Whacky song titles like “Blue Cheese” harken back to the goofiness of Barnett’s solo lyrics. At the same time, complicated guitar work alludes to the instrumental proficiency held by both artists.
Over the top of the entire album, the nasally tone of Vile’s voice grounds Barnett’s accented pitch into a seamless, relaxing conversation held during “Continental Breakfast.”
As Rolling Stone mentions, “As collaborators, they’re a perfect match: Kurt Vile is a master of zoned-out fingerpicking and droll longhaired jive; Courtney Barnett is a Dylanesque image ninja who can turn everyday stuff like making ramen noodles into rich, personal meditations.”
While the album is undoubtedly tamer than each artist’s catalogue, the record brings a nice change of pace to the alternative rock sphere, revealing the eclectic capabilities of Vile and Barnett.
Summarizing the general consensus, Pitchfork gives Lotta Sea Lice a 7.6 out of 10, calling the album, “…an intimate, fly-on-the-wall perspective on two peers talking shop about their songwriting methods.”
With a relationship producing such approval, this might not be the last we see of Vile and Barnett. The duo will be playing next at the Orpheum Theater in Boston on Nov. 4.