Saint John musician Brandon McCluskey’s debut full length is a cathartic, low-fi journey through anxiety, depression and resolve.
Sometimes an album just hits us the right way, checks all the right boxes and earns a place in our Requires Further Listening folder. And as great as it is to discover new music that resonates with our ears, it’s even more satisfying when it happens unexpectedly, as is the case with Time To Go, the debut full length from Saint John bedroom composer Brandon McCluskey and his project, Smiling Boy.
Over the course of the year McCluskey has released a number of singles along with the brilliantly titled EP, Terrible Recordings of Songs I Wrote When I Was Younger. Each of these releases embody a low-fi aesthetic to great effect, and over the course of this project’s existence, Smiling Boy has in many ways come to be defined by this unrefined delivery.
Time To Go isn’t a good sounding album. At least not in the traditional sense. In fact, it’s not a polished recording by any means. No expensive microphones, or soundboards, or isolation booths, or trained engineers were used in the creation of this recording. There is hiss and noise permeating through every track, at times sounding like it was recorded outdoors in the rain using a cellphone or a $30 voice recorder. But what is so often consider to be a major setback has, at least in this case, stepped forward to reveal itself as one of this recording’s hidden strengths.
The hiss is actually so strong at times that it acts like an instrument all its own, mimicking a hard rain or a weak distress signal that is trying desperately to be heard.
When paired with the album’s desperate melancholic tone and absolute lyrical sincerity, these low-fi textures only serve the strengthen McCluskey’s music, accenting his words with an honest expression of anxiety and sadness.
“I create music mainly for myself as a way to document time and help me grow as a person,” said McCluskey. “I take all my negative thoughts and feelings and really try to shape a sound and feel that other people will relate to as a way to convey what I’m feeling. Life can be very tough sometimes, so my goal with this project would be to have people listen to my music for comfort, as a way to help get them through certain periods of time.”
The majority of the album’s 11 tracks come across more as vignettes than complete songs. With little regard for common song structures, each track is like page from a diary, an entry in a journal or similar form an emotional catharsis. As a result, there isn’t a lot of development happening throughout these tracks. The songs rarely move past the initial place where they begin, yet still feel complete in their purpose.
Time To Go’s point form delivery is a direct result of the McCluskey’s creative process.
“I am my most productive when experiencing the lowest lows,” said McCluskey. “I get super inside my head and these bouts of depression are almost incurable without writing music. I’ve struggled to love myself for as long as I can remember and when I began to write music I realized how relaxing it is to put all of the emotion I’m feeling into creating a song or album.
“I’ll sit down and write and record a song all in one sitting. Even if the recording isn’t the best sounding, I usually keep all the flaws in there because in life, nothing is perfect and never will be,” he said.
McCluskey wrote and recorded Time To Go in a single week following a particularly challenging time in his life.
As the title suggests, the album was a means to an end for the artist and his way of moving through a difficult time.
“I was so depressed and anxious and was at such a terrible point in my life that I realized it was time for me to move on and to just focus on healing and loving myself.”
Time To Go was released December 1, 2018.