For this week’s iteration of Tuesday Tunes, I give you: Barns Courtney, a 29-year-old from the UK who makes damn good music.
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When I told my brother-in-law I was interested in this artist, he said, “Is it hipster? Because it sounds pretty hipster.” And I didn’t deny it. But this isn’t the beard-and-beanie, Mumford & Sons kind of hipster, if that’s what you’re used to. Think a little more eccentric, and more rock ‘n’ roll.
I first heard Barns Courtney on Pandora a couple years ago, right around the time he produced his debut album, The Attractions of Youth. I don’t remember if I heard “Glitter and Gold” or “Golden Dandelions” first, but they’re both dynamite tracks that brought him significant star power leading up to his latest album, 404, which was released in September.
Although Courtney’s been signed to Virgin/Capitol Records, he has the indie-alternative past to fuel good, original music. That said, you can tell some songs on the latest album have been massaged for the mainstream — I like their sound, I just hope Courtney can maintain his own artistic vision for future albums, without caving to the commercial goals of a major label (which, I’m sure, is a temptation for all musicians; after all, for any kind of artist, the goal is to be able to make enough money doing what you love to continue doing what you love, preferably full time).
The opening track on 404, “Hollow,” is pretty classic Courtney, with a bit of Young the Giant and Neon Trees flavor. “You and I” is a fun, pop-y follow-up with strong similarities to Vance Joy and The 1975, which already appeals to me, but I was delighted to discover the 80s-style music video as well, with lyrics and a story reminiscent of Centerfold by The J. Geils Band.
I also love the top YouTube comment on this video (despite its typos):
Barns Courtney : creates nostalgic songs.
Me: Start to feel nostalgic for something I’ve never knew.
Next up is “99,” the first single released from this album, in 2018. Lyrically, I think it’s a nice successor to Prince’s “1999;” it doesn’t reference the end of the world or anything, but it expresses the kind of nostalgia that comes from being a child of the ’90s. It hearkens back to simpler times with lines like, “Sega’s my Ferrari,” and hints at the possibility that it may have been better if the world had ended in 1999…
Just a theory.
(I also thought its reference to “voodoo economics” might be a head nod to Ferris Bueller, but maybe I’m biased.)
Then there’s “London Girls,” which sounds a little like AJR, and solidly ’90s pop-punk. “Fun Never Ends” is again classic Courtney (while listening, I thought, “who does this remind me of?” and then I realized, Barns Courtney!), with its more electric, anthem feel (not to mention F-bombs).
“Boy Like Me” is reminiscent of “99” in terms of melody, “Little Boy” from Attractions of Youth, thematically. “The Kids Are Alright” is another allusion to an older artist — this time, The Who, and the single from their 1965 album, My Generation (as well as the 1979 rockumentary of the same name), which balances well with “99.”
Eighth on the track list is “Castaway,” which I liked immediately, though I’m not exactly sure why, so you can just listen to it, in all its primal glory:
“Babylon” was an interesting (read: unexpected, but not unpleasant) change of pace, with its almost RAIGN-like sound (e.g.”When It’s All Over“), and the album closes out with “Cannonball,” which is a little heavy on the airy falsetto, but not terrible.
Overall, 404 is a solid album, but Attractions of Youth is still my favorite of his (so far), and I would highly recommend giving that one a listen as well. It’s more conceptual, more offbeat and more in-your-face — funny, considering the artist himself seems to have grown more flamboyant since its release, while his music has possibly toned down a bit.
In any case, I look forward to Courtney’s progression as a musician, and hope to see him in concert someday.
And if I don’t get 404 as a Christmas gift, I’ll be buying it myself!
The Attractions of Youth
Copyright © Cait Buxbaum, 2019