One of the things we have grown to love about Courtney Barnett’s songwriting is the way it weaves intricate trains of thought that mimic our own insecurities and grievances with the world. But her latest, Things Take Time, Take Time, is an exercise in pulling back, paring down. Even the album’s title reads like a play on the theme, a statement followed by a straightforward suggestion, a mantra. All soft textures and honeyed vocals, Things Take Time, Take Time is Barnett dialed way down, but tuned way in — to her needs, her desires, her body, her relationships — thanks to some needed time alone to reconnect with herself.
It is a curious study in establishing a distinct voice as an artist that this is only Barnett’s third full-length solo album. Even more curious is how much we’re still learning about her. The way she’s flipping our expectations of her upside down with a work so mindful and unhurried is what makes Barnett fascinating to watch. She isn’t afraid to deliver less head-banging in favor of melodic meditations, less isolation and anxiety in favor of quiet contemplation and connection, enunciating each drawn-out lyric.
“I am really gonna miss you,” she sings to a departing loved one on the slowest, drip-by-drip “Splendour.” On the sleepy-eyed album closer, “Oh the Night,” she sings, “Sorry that I’ve been slow / you know it takes a little / time for me to show / how I really feel / won’t you meet me somewhere in the middle?” The tempo kicks up ever so slightly alongside the swooning harmonies of “Here’s the Thing,” a tune about longing for someone from afar. “I’m not afraid of heights / maybe I’m just scared of falling,” Barnett sings dreamily, unsure whether to confront her vulnerability head-on or run from it. There is her token uncertainty in the songs on Things Take Time, Take Time, but she is more settled into and more open about it.
For those who want to rock, songs like the driving “Rae Street,” with its thumping drums and heavy guitars, the sunny pop earworm “Write a List of Things to Look Forward To,” and the classic Barnett hip shaker “Take it Day by Day” will satisfy. The latter two hold the keys to the heart of Things Take Time, Take Time. Take it slow, do less, give yourself space and nurture your friendships.
The low-key “Before You Gotta Go” sums this up the sweetest. Barnett sings about resolution and never separating from someone you love angrily. “If something were to happen my dear / I wouldn’t want the last words you hear to be unkind,” she sings in the mid-tempo groove. Such a simple thing shouldn’t feel so enlightening, but from Barnett, it seems to anyway.