Since I caught up with my first Next One Up winner, Lostboycrow, a couple months back, I’d been mulling doing the same with my other winner, Barns Courtney. I especially wanted to do this after I heard his first single, “Glitter and Gold,” playing in ESPN’s NBA playoffs promos. The songs I profiled in my initial look at his work have popped up in other places too, with “Fire” being used in an episode of the USA Network show Suits, and also in a highlights package that the Australian rules football team Hawthorn Football Club plays regularly during home games. He’s also opened for such prominent acts as The Who, Ed Sheeran, and Fitz & the Tantrums. So, he’s definitely showing signs of breaking into the mainstream.
As far as new music is concerned, Courtney hasn’t been quite as prolific as Lostboycrow has been, but he did hit a milestone by putting out his first EP, The Dull Drums. Two of the tracks are the two mentioned above, but there’s some new songs in there that help us get a sense of the direction he’s taking his music.
Probably my favorite of the previously unreleased songs on The Dull Drums is “Hands,” which tells the classic story of two people whose romantic encounter was far too short, and the main character wishes he could find his lover and see her again. Songs with a beat as lumbering as “Hands” are usually slower and sludgier, but this song has every bit the energy of a “Glitter and Gold”-type song, with a moderate to fast tempo that moves at a heartbeat-like pace and keeps the song moving. It’s got just enough of the indie sound to remain credible among those fans, but isn’t so opaque as to be inaccessible. Another song on the EP, “Hellfire,” suffers from this a little, but still has enough energy to keep listeners engaged, so I wouldn’t call it a bad song.
“Little Boy” is a little slower and has more of the classic acoustic singer/songwriter vibe, and given its lyrical content, it’s easy to understand why. The song speaks of Courtney’s struggle to achieve his dreams in the music business, aspirations that he’s had since he was young. When he experiences any sort of difficulties or struggles, he hears the voice of his younger self urging him on. The well-constructed alignment between the vibe of the music and the lyrical content in both this song and “Hands,” shows that Courtney has the talent to be thought of as a great songwriter someday.
Aside from The Dull Drums, Barns Courtney has released one other single, “Golden Dandelions.” This song finds him returning to his energetic self. Like many of his songs, it’s primarily driven by guitar and drums. While the music is fairly accessible, the lyrics are a little more ambiguous, appearing to talk about a couple making some cherished memories together and basking in their love. It’s almost as if this is a sequel to “Hands,” describing what happened when that couple found each other again. “Golden Dandelions” is also one of two songs of his that has charted, peaking at #40 on the US Alternative charts. “Fire” is still his best-performing song, having peaked at #18 on that chart and even making its way onto the Rock charts, climbing to #46 there.
I would characterize Barns Courtney’s music as “bubbling under the surface” of mainstream consciousness. He’s focused more on touring and promoting the singles he already has out than releasing lots more new music like Lostboycrow has. But I would argue that he is closer to being a household name than LBC, mainly because his songs have been used in several different types of media. That could have as much to do with the genre he’s in vs. the one that LBC is in. Barns Courtney’s songs, while not necessarily better, are probably a little more radio-friendly than LBC’s. That could explain why he’s having an easier time with marketing his craft. It will be interesting to see what happens with both singers as they progress in their careers. Will they stick to what they know, or will we see more experimentation and innovation from them? Only time will tell.