Kurt and Courtney Strike Gold on “Lotta Duets”

It’s becoming increasingly common practice for an artist to post an original playlist to their Spotify page in the run-up to a new album. It’s a canny strategy: Throw a few tracks together then sit back as the mix gains followers, who then become a readymade audience when the record comes out. The original-playlist promotional gambit is just the latest new marketing tactic in an industry defined by them: Last week’s record club becomes this week’s free mp3 download becomes next week’s Twitter Takeover, and so on. Thus, for every three perfunctory artist playlists that show up on Spotify pages these days, there’s one stand-out entry, a mix put together with extra TLC that both stands on its own and complements the album being released. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s “Lotta Duets” playlist is just such a mix. Honestly, this thing rules.

Compiled to accompany the duo’s debut collaborative full-length, Lotta Sea Lice, “Lotta Duets” is a who’s-who of classic pairings: George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. The mix spans genres and eras. Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands in the Stream,” as virtuosic an example of streamlined ‘80s pop as any that exists (it was written by the Bee Gees, btw), is flanked by the gentle folk of “Early Morning Rain,” by Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia, and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me),” a collaboration between George Michael and Aretha Franklin. While the indulgent production of the latter track bears little resemblance to anything on Lotta Sea Lice, its inclusion feels consistent with Vile and Barnett’s penchant for winking references. Many of the tracks on the playlist are more obviously influential, as in the fuzzed-out indie pop of The Vaselines’ “Son Of A Gun,” the saccharine crunch of Iggy Pop’s “Candy” (featuring Kate Pierson of The B-52’s), the snarling grooves of “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” by Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty. If you were to melt all these tracks down, what you’d have is a winsome, sturdy, occasionally nostalgic, occasionally cheeky rock sound anchored in the past but with some modern flourishes—in other words, exactly the sound of Lotta Sea Lice. That’s a pretty neat trick.