British native-turned-immigrant-and back again Barns Courtney released his debut album Sept. 29 after the completion of the first leg of his North American tour.
Originally born in Ipswich, England, Courtney moved to Seattle, Washington at the age of four years old. From a young age Courtney was known to create music, as he admits to constantly making up little parodies and songs with his mom.
At 14 years old, Courtney moved with his family back to the United Kingdom, where he finished his schooling.
Courtney landed a record deal at the age of 18 with his then band, SleeperCell. In an interview with Matt Pinfield, Courtney shared his harrowing first brush with fame. Long story short, after countless hours of hard work and quite a bit of partying and waiting around, his record label dropped him at the end of their three-year contract because the producer never mixed their tracks.
All of a sudden, what initially seemed like the start of the “good life” came crashing down. Courtney found himself sleeping on a girlfriend’s couch or in an abandoned old folks’ home in London with his former bassist, eating sardines on toast and working at a computer store.
It was definitely a dark time for the young artist, but he also admits that it became a great source for musical inspiration. The result of this turmoil is definitely evident in his debut through the lyrics of many songs. However, Courtney manages to keep much of the album light, fun and full of attitude.
“Attractions of Youth” kicks off with the song to which he owes his second chance at fame. It was the shoddily spliced hybrid of two versions of his first track, “Fire,” which made its way to director John Wells. “Fire” was selected for the soundtrack of the motion picture “Burnt,” starring Bradley Cooper.
A song pleading with the heavens to give him back the passion that he used to feel about life and about music, it is a singable indie track that everyone can relate to.
Simple instrumentally, Courtney aggressively strums simple chords as layered vocalizations and “primitive” drums and clapping beat out a rhythm. This allows his pleading vocals more impact and showcases the slight rasp to his voice.
With an old west showdown styled breakdown, this song’s arrangement by Courtney is what really allows it to shine.
The fourth track, “Golden Dandelions,” is one of Courtney’s successful singles. While at face value it seems to further romanticize modern society’s relationship norms, the real story behind the track is darker and all the more beautiful.
The song is actually about Death, the being, but not the commonly portrayed one dressed in black robes and skeletal figure.
Courtney drew inspiration from the John Donne poem “Death, Be Not Proud.” In the poem, Donne poses the question: What if death was like a friend, not some dark foreboding creature wielding a scythe?
Courtney took this one step further and transformed death into a beautiful lover who lures you out above the city as the lights melt and fade and seals your fate with one last embrace in a field of golden dandelions.
Everyone has to admit that sounds way more appealing than being dragged away by some dark robed third spirit from “A Christmas Carol.” Clear vocals with heavy bass drum use, the brightness of an electric guitar and drum brush scraped cymbals give this song a decidedly pop indie quality. Definitely a favorite from the artist’s debut.
“Hobo Rocket” might be my favorite off of the album. It just has a cool rock vibe to it. With verses comprised of successful “rhythm talking,” it’s the perfect blend of cool and funky.
“When my feet touch down on the foreign land, I buried all my money in a coffee can, and I’ve been hobo skippin’ just to hide from the weather, only got to pennies better rub them together.” Lyrics in this track, again, mirror many of Courtney’s experiences during the years between record deals. This track is complete with a audio clip of an actual hobo outside of a London Tesco station giving Courtney musical advice. Just another facet furthering the cool factor on this unique song.
“Champion” showcases not only Courtney’s drive to attain his dreams, but also his ability to create complex arrangements with nontraditional instruments.
Is that a squeaky door you hear? Sure is.
Sounds like there might be a filing cabinet door being slammed? Then that is most likely what it is.
Courtney recorded much of the album’s instrumentation using found items at the old folks’ home he and his former bassist lived in. The results are tracks such as Champion, with instrumentation and arrangement as intensely interesting as the lyrics.
With “Attractions of Youth,” Barns Courtney proves he merits a successful record deal. Perhaps not a shining example of overcoming obstacles to pursue your passion, Courtney seems comfortable bearing his scars and rough edges. An artistic mind capable of masterful musical arrangement and deep lyricism, Barns Courtney is definitely a name to watch, and music to listen to.