When I first listened to Courtney Barnett’s “Depreston” I can remember being pulled into the song immediately. The guitar riff is simple, and everything accompanying it is fairly muted, so it evokes the feeling that Barnett is singing directly to us, telling us a story in her signature deadpan delivery that immediately makes us want to know more. Then again, that’s pretty much what we can expect from almost all her music. Fortunately she’s not shy about telling us what inspires her and how the process of writing music works for her, so we’re never left wondering what she was getting at. For the background information for today’s post I listened to a Song Exploder podcast of Barnett herself, hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway. I’ve included a link to it at the bottom, after the cocktail recipe. If you want to listen to the song as you read along, you can click here.
We get the idea of this song right away; she’s house hunting and has decided to look out just a little further into the suburbs. There’s no need to be around coffee shops when you’ve got a brand new percolator at home. The truly great thing about Courtney Barnet is that it’s not only her lyrics that tell the story of what’s going on the song, it’s also the music. In this case we have this easy guitar riff that makes us feel like we’re in the car with her, driving out of the city to go look at some houses. It starts out easy and light enough, but the lyrics quickly bring us back to reality. “We drive to a house in Preston / We see police arresting / A man with his hand in a bag. / How’s that for first impressions / This place seems depressing…” Now she has our attention and we know that there’s going to be more to this song that just the story of an average day spent looking at open houses. The house is nice; it has a garden, a two-car garage, and it’s going for a good price, but it’s a “deceased estate” and suddenly we feel the shift in the song’s focus. Barnett can no longer think about the floorboards, or the pressed metal ceilings, or the way the light comes in, she’s now only seeing the personal items in the house that belonged to the former owner. It is true that whenever we look at a house that’s not completely empty, we do feel a certain sense of voyeurism. We’re being given a glimpse into how the owners live, or lived, and there can be something that’s more than a little unsettling about that.
For most of us, our homes embody the very essence of who we are. When we’re ready to move on either in just a transitory sense, or a final sense, our home still stands as a reflection of the life we lived. In the podcast, Barnett admits that this realization made her dwell on the idea of mortality, and it’s easy to understand why. Many of us have been through the process of emptying someone’s home after they’ve died. It can feel like we’re peeling back the layers of all the years the person spent there, building a life that saw many changes, but eventually had to come to an end. In the song, the realtor’s suggestion that the house could be knocked down, and something new built in its place, takes things to a whole new level of sadness. This idea becomes a kind of refrain at the end, between two guitar solos that Barnett accurately describes as sounding like they could be a woman weeping. The song closes with a fade, something that does not happen all that often these days, and that was a deliberate choice on Barnett’s part. For her, it reflected the idea of mortality and fading into nothingness.
For today’s cocktail, I tried to create a similar juxtaposition between appearance and truth. The cocktail and its photo are very simple, with blue and gray as the main colors to echo the overall despondency of the song. The drink itself is not simple, however, with its complexity coming from the collision between the smoky bite of the jalapeño tequila and the bright sweetness of the blue curaçao. I had to balance that with sweet and sour elements on either side, eventually cutting back the tequila by just a little bit and adding a dash of bitters to get it right. In the end, I felt as though it accurately reflected song in terms of both its sound and its meaning. If you are not a Courtney Barnett fan, you need to change that right away. This song is from her first album, continues to impress with everything she does. Cheers everyone. Happy Wednesday!
How’s That For First Impressions?
Add all the ingredients to a shaker with ice and shake vigorously until very cold. Strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass over fresh ice. Garnish with an orange twist that you’ve expressed over the drink. Enjoy!