Friday, 25 April 2014

Live This Sound: A Sea of Split Peas

Every once in a while, a record comes around that consumes you. It fills your waking hours. You think about it during the day, and you play it on constant repeat at night. You want to watch it; to read it; to swallow it whole.  Live this Sound is a regular section of this site that allows you to experience a single album as many ways as you possibly can. This week, we take a look at A Sea of Split Peas, the double EP from rising Aussie star Courtney Barnett.
The Album.
Courtney Barnett's total world domination has ramped up another notch recently, with the slyly witty young songstress making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. There's no use mistaking the fact that the Melbournian is our Next Big Thing - it's become increasingly hard to turn on the radio without coming across one of her grungy, tongue in cheek ballads. Thank God then that Barnett is a fantastically talented singer/songwriter - otherwise it'd be easy to get pretty sick of her, pretty quick.
Barnett's Double EP A Sea of Split Peas walks a fine line between tragedy and comedy - a song like "Avant Gardener" combines both, without ever becoming melodramatic or self-pitying.
But while rushing to appreciate her lyrics, it's easy for one to overlook the fact that she rocks as well. Her album is one of crashing guitars, pounding piano refrains, and a relentlessly likeable sound that is both replete with musical references (Nirvana being an obvious touch stone) and undeniably unique. Even those who have heard "Avant Gardener" to death should still hunt down A Sea of Split Peas - it's an album with a great deal more to give than just one song.
How to Eat This Album.
Barnett's got a bit of a tomato thing going on - on "Avant Gardener" she tells us she wants to grow them in her backyard, and she has a whole song (sort of) dedicated to the canned variety of the fruit. So, what better way to go than Gazpacho - tomato soup's underlooked cousin. Gazpacho has all of the bite and complexity of A Sea of Split Peas without ever being the kind of meal that makes you feel like a wanker when you eat it. There's a grand recipe for the stuff to be found here:
And for desert? All roads point to a good old fashioned pavlova. It's distinctly Australian; it's sweet without ever being sickly; and a good dose of passionfruit gives it that necessary bitter bite.
How to Drink this Album.
How could anyone overlook a mojito? Forget the crap that people serve you in pubs - just make it yourself, following the recipe below. Not only will you be saving a few bob, but the drink itself will taste better, particularly seeing as a lot of dives these days think  that a mojito requires the dedication of a cult member - chucking in a dozen different kind of leafy bits and bobs to clog up your perfectly good drink glass.
Like the best things in life, a mojito should be as simple as possible - go easy on all of the ingredients. Not unlike A Sea of Split Peas, a good mojito is a bitterly sweet drink that's both inviting and surprisingly dangerous: it's hard to stop at one.
There's a simple and easy recipe here:
If you're feeling a little more adventurous, you could always go with a strawberry mojito - just be careful not to overdo it on the sugar.
How to Watch This Album.
A lot of the songs on A Sea of Split Peas are love ballads gone slightly wrong. There's a sense of romance to Barnett's music, albeit of an unrequited, doomed kind.
Paul Thomas Anderson's totally demented rom-com Punch Drunk Love is the closest cinematic equivalent to Barnett's darkly tragicomic tone. I've never been an Adam Sandler fan, but the man does very good work here; taking his usual 'angry man' persona and pushing it to genuinely interesting extremes. Of course, he also has a lot of help from Anderson's script, which manages to be utterly bizarre without ever being distracting or distancing. It's a real love story, and although it takes a strange winding road to get there, by the time the conclusion comes crashing down, you feel genuinely affected; love might be blind (and pretty dumb), but it's still the thing that keeps us keeping on.
Another one of Barnett's fantastic cinematic sisters is the Australian movie Praise, directed by John Curran - the only problem is, it's almost impossible to find. I haven't even been able to find a clip on youtube, so you'll have to settle with the film's poster, which admittedly doesn't give you very much. But take my word for it: this is a fantastic film, a warts and all love story that has much to do with eczema, scrabble and asthma attacks as it does with what we usually consider romance. It's one of those films that gets almost everything right - it's deeply funny, bitterly sad, undeniably tense, and remarkably acted. Hunt it down, whatever way you can.
How to Read This Album.
Ask the Dust by John Fante might seem like a bit of an odd choice - after all, it's about as far removed from Barnett's Australiana as one can imagine. That said, there are a lot of similarities to be found between the book and A Sea of Split Peas - both are much funnier than they are given credit for, and both contain a sustained tone of cathartic self-analysis that teeters on the edge of becoming self-pity, without ever falling into that particular trap. Ask the Dust is one of those books you can finish in a single sitting. It's totally enthralling; Fante's ability to pin a character down to a single place and time is unequalled, and Arturo Bandini is one of those fictional figures that you just want to buy a beer and chat to for a time. Just make sure you avoid the god-awful film adaption - it's one of those movies that manages to completely miss the point of its source text, leaving you with nothing but an hour and a half of Colin Farrell gurning for the camera.
If poetry is your thing, then you can't ignore the work of Stevie Smith. Barnett and Smith are equally astute dark comedians - since Smith has been canonized, people seem to have forgotten how funny she really is. Sure, she's incredibly heartfelt and powerful too, but you only need to look as far as "Not Waving But Drowning" to see that she had a black vein of bathetic humour mixed up in her world view too.

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