by trevor elkin
Love is supposed to be selfless. Sometimes it’s like an all-consuming passion, other times it’s something more stable and consistent, yet no less deep. Those who jump right in without fear do it because, for them, there’s no other reason to be alive. But here’s the catch: to be open to love, you have to be ready for rejection. Courtney Farren’s debut, ‘Nothing Like It’, is a stunning break-up journal, an intimate account for all the times the price of love is too high.
If this were just a regular set of songs about failed love affairs, it would still be engaging thanks to Farren’s quieting melodies and vocals, which recall early Aimee Mann, Marisa Nadler or Daughter. But this album is so much more. We’re told you can often find Farren writing in a notebook (“or two, or three”) imprinting her recollections and detailed accounts of her life and relationships into her songs. These moments – which might have otherwise slipped away, forgotten forever – become the exquisite personal touches that entangle us emotionally in each story.
Growing up, Farren moved many times, a pattern which seems to have continued into adulthood. She’s lived in four very different cities in 2017 alone – San Francisco, Palm Springs, Las Vegas and now New York. This restlessness spills into Farren’s music sometimes creating a sense of dissatisfaction with someone, or something. On ‘Nothing Like It’, she sings: “You’re not pessimistic, just know it will take time, becoming impatient because you now know the feeling of having a body lie next to you when you wake up, holding their hand and getting to share love,” thinking aloud, rationalising, making sense of something that can’t be articulated.
Elsewhere, Farren recreates the kind of awkwardness and desperate discomfort felt immediately before a break-up. In that space, she focuses on the fractured memories that remain – the smell of cologne, socks in bed, snoring, an itch you can’t scratch. Of all the tracks on the album ‘Hard To Tell’ hits hardest, because it is equally honest and direct, but also because both these routine, mundane details and fond memories of a relationship are rendered weighty and constant reminders of vulnerability.
“Out of all the songs on this record, Hard to Tell is my favourite for a few reasons,” Farren says of the EP’s stand-out track, “The main reason being that I so vividly remember the time and place I wrote it. I was in my friend’s apartment in Woodside, Queens, and it was around 4 in the morning. And the imagery in the song is so literally what I was feeling and doing. So maybe I didn’t actually put a tape of snoring on to wake up to (maybe I did), but the sentiment of all of the scenarios I describe in the song rang so true to how I was feeling that night.”
How do you express love when all you can feel is fear of time running out? ‘Right Now’ attempts to stretch out the present moment, to make it last forever and could be the most beautifully heartbreaking song you’ll hear all year. Other times, Farren gives herself space to play around with silence and simple arrangements, as on ‘You’re Only On My Mind’, where emptiness this time represents losing your sense of self entirely to another person. The pivotal track on the album, ‘Someone’, gives an opportunity for closure on a failed relationship “I don’t know if you can ever say goodbye right, but I’m doing it tonight”, Farren adding a less convincing ‘goodbye’ at the end. Closing track, ‘Change Your Mind’, supported by its gently purring hammond organ, leaves the album’s fate hanging indefinitely in an open-hearted gesture of hope.
With a hesitant farewell, Courtney Farren allows us to determine how this story should end and, ultimately, to discover how selfless we really are.
photo: brett sullivan