It seems only fitting that the hook from Courtney Barnett’s new song “Rae Street”—“Time is money, and money is no man’s friend”—echoes words that her father said. The first single from the observational Australian singer-songwriter’s upcoming third solo album (the cleverly titled Things Take Time, Take Time) feels like a return to her roots. For all the punkish blasts of 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit and the puckish sloganeering of 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett is most at home as a daydreaming chronicler of the everyday—a shrugging standard-bearer for an Aussie songwriting tradition that stretches from former tourmate Darren Hanlon to recent successors like Camp Cope, Alex Lahey, and Stella Donnelly. As Barnett herself deadpanned on her 2013 breakout “Avant Gardener,” she much prefers the mundane.
Channeling a parent’s weathered bromides allows Barnett to sidestep self-consciousness and surrender to the flow of life outside her window. She spent most of 2020 in self-quarantine at a friend’s empty Melbourne apartment, and it’s easy to imagine her scribbling down the fragmentary images—a passing garbage truck, a kid learning to ride a bike, a couple painting bricks, a weary parent yelling—that come together to form a compelling portrait of day-to-day existence, like a “22 Short Films About Springfield” for pandemic life and beyond. In an appealing, characteristic turn, she goes from singing about needing society-wide change to musing about changing the bedsheets. Musically, the song is a comforting return, with easygoing guitar strums and rudimentary drum machine programming, guided by co-producer (and Warpaint drummer) Stella Mozgawa. The two previously played together on Barnett’s collaborative album with Kurt Vile, 2017’s Lotta Sea Lice, and “Rae Street” recalls that record’s languid, ambling pace; Barnett’s nonchalant drawl sounds like she’s describing her afternoon over coffee. Time might be no one’s friend, but this is the most amiable four-and-a-half minutes I’ve heard in a while, in a while.