A few indie artists can express themselves freely in their music like Courtney Barnett. Of course, many artists put their soul into the music they make, but there’s something unique about how Barnett conveys her touching yet arcane lyrics. You may have heard of the Australian singer-songwriter thanks to her hit song “Avant Gardener” from her debut, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. The track has a slick indie vibe, which may feel uplifting in the instrumental, but hard-hitting in the lyrics as it explores the difficulty of escaping her discomfort. There are many other examples of this duality of instrumental vibrancy and lyrical melancholy in this record. After having been in the industry for a few years, a documentary named after her song “Anonymous Club” was initiated in 2018 by director and frequent collaborator of Barnett, Danny Cohen. Shooting on a 16mm camera, hence the crisp and beautiful look, he traveled with the artist for three years while on tour to different countries in Europe, the US, Asia, and even her hometown of Melbourne.
The documentary follows Barnett as she intimately reveals her private life, although she’s paradoxically introverted. From sad longing days to the times when she wishes to quit the tour, we go through the different stages of her career while intertwining it with live performances, in both big and small crowds, and audio diary logs from an analog Dictaphone. Although she reflects on her internal struggles, it doesn’t go so fully in-depth with the topics, and that is for the better. She doesn’t give the documentary the complete answers to why she has these frustrations. Instead, it’s all about the reflections of her confidence and self-perception for the aching of fame and her understanding of what her music means to her and to the people who relate to it. Anonymous Club describes itself as the “antithesis of a rock biography”, which I can agree with to some extent. Most rock documentaries revolve around remembering the olden days of the rough and rowdy crowds. Nothing against them, I love a lot of them. Yet, it is nice to see a documentary about an artist, specifically in the rock genre, being so gentle, smooth, and contemplating on such challenging topics in a time when many are suffering from those same concerns and troubles.
I do feel like it lacks a clear vision. It’s as if they put different segments all together without following a precise structure. Nonetheless, these types of music documentaries are special and enjoyable, especially if you love the artist behind them, which I do. I think the best of Barnett is ahead of her. Her most recent record, Things Take Time, Take Time is a lovely record, and the way The Vinyl Factory described it is a beautiful capture of what’s to come: “A finely-women collage of snapshots” and “it dives into Barnett’s own psyche to explore love, renewal, healing, and self-discovering”. It will be interesting if they do a similar documentary with other artists in various genres that have a similar way of communicating their pang and feelings in their pieces, like Chelsea Wolfe, Lingua Ignota, or Florence Welch. Anonymous Club is an immersing documentary centered around one of indie rock’s most talented songwriters of this generation.