Courtney Barnett's "Depreston," a Portrait in Song

Scott Wallace
3rd Mar 2015

Courtney Barnett has been on an upward trajectory for a long time, having just played Laneway Festival and now embarking on an international headline tour. Along with that, her new single "Depreston" is an absolute stunner. Continuing with the clever wordplay that made "Avant-Gardener" and her double EP A Sea of Split Peas so intriguing when they came out back in 2013, "Depreston" is a similar slice of warm, lived-in, suburban poetry.

Its title is a play on the Melbourne suburb of Preston, where the song's narrator is looking for a new place with a partner or a friend. Largely avoiding the shaggy garage rock that characterised most of her previous work, and by extension the endearingly deadpan delivery for which she has become known, the gently strummed song is full of almost inxpressible feeling that lurks beneath its arfully prosaic lyrics.

In Preston, Barnett's narrator's first impression of the suburb is when they "see police arresting a man with his hand in a bag." She opines "This place seems depressing." When inspecting the house in Preston, Barnett skims over the details like which way the windows face, the pressed metal ceilings and the double garage, delivering them with a clipped staccato cadence. When she sings "well, it's a deceased estate" though, her voice lifts away from the surface of the song, like a bird taking flight.

She lingers on personal mementos of the house's former occupant - a metal handrail in the shower, tins for coffee, tea and flour, and a framed photo of "a young man in a van in Vietnam." The routine process of inspecting a house is transformed into an intensely personal and insular moment for the song's narrator. We learn so much about her just from this trip out to Preston.

The song's last two wistful minutes consist of the repeated phrase "If you've got a spare half of a million, you could knock it down and start re-buildin'" and a gentle, watery guitar solo. Based on the way she sings it, the prospect of knocking the house down sounds absolutely heartbreaking. This song proves that there is more to Courtney Barnett than just a sleepy-eyed wisecracker. She's a powerful storyteller too, creating distinctly human portraits in song.

"Depreston" appears alongside Barnett's other recent single, the serrated barnstormer "Pedestrian at Best" on her upcoming record Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, which is out on March 20 through Milk! Records and is her first proper full-length studio album. Based on what we've heard so far, it's going to be absolutely wonderful. She will also be appearing at the Metro Theatre on May 8. Don't miss out on seeing her remarkable talent in person.