New Music: Courtney Smith’s ‘Turn Left Fifteen Years Ago’

Courtney Smith’s new release, ‘Turn Left Fifteen Years Ago’, marks itself as a solid debut album, providing an experience as full of wistful melancholy as the title implies. Featuring a heavily acoustic-driven folk basis throughout, Smith is able to capture a consistent sound while still toying with it enough to keep each track unique and the album free of repetition. From the slow-paced depression of ‘A Folk Song’ to the upbeat, rolling tempo and panoramic poetry of ‘Senses’, Smith’s melodies are pleasant to the ear yet evocative in both content and sound of a life spent drifting and doubting.

‘Turn Left”s strength as an album comes not only from Smith’s excellent musicianship, but also her lyricism, which occasionally finds itself overshadowing the music itself. Typically, an album centred themes of existential depression and regret winds up as either a whiny angst trip or the vapid pretentiousness of a high-schooler who’s just discovered Catcher in the Rye. Fortunately, neither of these are the case, as Smith’s mix of elegant language and self-awareness keeps it feeling real. She isn’t complaining for the sake of complaining, nor is she trying to cast herself as some tragic hero struggling against the world. Turn Left is simply Smith opening up and saying things haven’t been great, as she herself has said, “Turn Left Fifteen Years Ago is about the general confusion it is to be human. It’s a journal through my attempt to figure things out but hesitating and over thinking every move along the way.”

Even the creation of the album itself was marked with this struggle, as according to Smith, “I started recording the album in 2009, finished half of it, then had a meltdown and put it on hold for a few years. I didn’t know if I liked the music I was making or if it was any good. I got really self-conscious about the whole thing so I just dropped it for a while. From that time forward I still played music, but stuck to covers and avoided playing or writing originals because it all made me uneasy. The nagging feeling of needing to write and create stuck with me and haunted me, in a way, and trying to avoid it truly made me depressed. By 2014 I couldn’t ignore it any longer and decided I needed to stop drowning in self-doubt and finish the album.”

Tracks such as ‘Birds Don’t Sing’ and ‘That’s Not Me’ provide thought-provoking, if somewhat dark, questions of identity and purpose, all building towards the central feeling of discontent that is the core of the album. Perhaps the strongest song on the album though, ‘My Bitter Heart’, is a blunt and spiteful recollection of the ugliness of failed relationships, ending with a catchy, singsong outro littered with insults and direct threats. All in all, there isn’t a single track to disappoint in any regard, and each fits well with the next, establishing an excellent sense of coherence throughout the entire album.

If there is a weakness in ‘Turn Left’, it can only be the length. Clocking in under 25 minutes, the album shines with enough promise to really spark an interest, but is over too soon, leaving a sense of incomplete longing. In spite of this complaint though, ‘Turn Left’ makes a strong showing as a debut album, giving more than enough reason to start following Courtney Smith, and should find its way onto everyone’s playlists in the new year with little difficulty.

For more information visit Courtney Smith’s Facebook page.

Photo by John Pollack.