Courtney Barnett’s third album, Things Take Time, Take Time, is aptly named—it takes more than one listen to hear the wonders in it. Barnett is one of those rare indie artists who had a massive, critically acclaimed debut LP with Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. But you won’t find more of those anthemic songs best listened to while shouting out the lyrics with a room full of strangers on this record. Instead, continuing along the stylistic shift begun on 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, Things Take Time gets more mellow and introspective.
It’s easy to imagine the record soundtracking mundane activities: washing dishes, waiting for someone to text back over the weekend, writing late-night work emails you put off throughout the day. That’s not a bad thing, though; despite coming off as monotonous and unadventurous upon first listen, there are moments where Things Take Time all clicks, and you find some brilliance in what first seemed overly simple.
For instance, take “Turning Green,” a track introduced with the CR-800 drum machine Barnett began playing with during the pandemic. It plays straightforward at first, accompanied by only bass, but Barnett does so much with just two instruments. And then, suddenly, an electric guitar solo pops in—you could be fooled into thinking the instrumentation is from a Yo La Tengo track. It’s one of the most complex arrangements on the album, but because it’s not brash, its potency can be dismissed at first.
By contrast, “Take It Day By Day” shines in its bare-bones nature, making the bass and drums the stars while staying peppier than most of the tracks. It’s a song that leaves the listener wanting more, clocking in at under two minutes.
But even songs that may not sound particularly musically exhilarating can still impress, with Barnett writing some of her most vulnerable lyrics yet. In “Here’s The Thing,” she turns what initially was meant to be a letter into a love song, admitting, “I don’t know what to say, you’re so far away / I don’t wanna be annoying… And I feel insecure.”
She tackles similar emotions in “If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight,” craving conversation with the person she’s longing for while feeling isolated: “And it’s so quiet outside / With this curfew lullaby / Is now an okay time to / Tell you that I like you? / I wait for your reply.”
This record was mostly written during the pandemic, and while it may not be the most sonically exciting record crafted under lockdown, it’s at its best when encapsulating the emotional regression felt during that time—especially when people were so starved for connection, they sometimes forgot how to communicate clearly with others. Barnett, like many of us, seems to have felt those self-conscious, uncomfortable emotions.
Barnett also interweaves songs written pre-COVID that fit within the theme of the album, such as “Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To.” Musically, it’s jangly and bright, evoking the imagery of listening while laying out in the grass, absorbing the sun. But its lyrics, written at the end of 2019 during the Australian bushfires, carry out a sense of darkness and dread that starkly contrast its upbeat tune: “Sit beside me, watch the world burn / We’ll never learn, we don’t deserve nice things / And we’ll scream self-righteously / We did our best, but what does that really mean?”
There’s a big downside to Things Take Time, though. Despite the hidden gems that eventually stand out with repeated listens, other tracks don’t work regardless of the time spent waiting for them to reveal greater beauty. “Splendour” is one of them: Barnett’s signature sing-talk enunciation can get dull, and in this case, it takes away the gravity of what appears to be a breakup song of sorts. Her remarks sound half-hearted as she sings, “Oh no, I am really gonna miss you.”
“Rae Street” also seemed enjoyable enough as a single, but compared to the rest of the album, it fades into the background. While it follows the recipe for what fans can recognize as a quintessential Barnett song (Slow guitar strums? Check. Monotonous tone of voice? Check. Existential lyrics? Check.), it’s not among her best.
There’s an understandable expectation for Barnett to replicate the style of her biggest songs from her debut—but she seems disinterested in either revisiting or replicating them. Still, while some of the music that’s followed Sometimes I Sit And Think lacks that magic, infectious touch—bringing worry that Barnett may have peaked during her debut album’s era—there’s still plenty to enjoy in her latest release.