Left & Leaving
(Sub City; 2000)
By David Greenwald | 30 May 2005
An English Major Analyzes The Top Five Reasons Why He Likes Left And Leaving By The Weakerthans
1. The production and instrument set-up is identical for the first ten songs of the album: dry and mostly bereft of reverb, lead guitar on the left, rhythm on the right, with drums, bass and vox in the middle. Exceptions and overdubs are few and far between (there’s a single vocal harmony on one verse of the entire album, and one-note piano adornments on the first track), and in this respect, Left And Leaving is textbook bare-bones punk rock. The music, even at its heaviest, is never harsh or grating, and what makes Left And Leaving special is The Weakerthans’ miraculous ability to infuse a stark style with warmth and sincerity.
2. There is one track that makes use of the ‘verb, and it’s steeped in it. “Without Mythologies” is the song, and the band carefully places it right in the middle of the album to break up the sameness. The vocals are nearly as cavernous as the distant drums; throughout the album, drummer Jason Tait uses long cymbal crashes to create more space, a technique that singer/guitarist John K. Samson mirrors by drawing out his syllables for whole measures.
3. On the title track, Samson sings about waiting “in 4/4 time.” The whole album is in 4/4 time, again with one notable exception: “History Of The Defeated” is a waltz, which, at track nine, cleverly happens to be 3/4 of the way through the album. I love the way both Samson and his bandmates almost imperceptibly hold their breath on each count, giving the song an even more hesitant feel than the foreign waltz count already gives it.
4. Samson writes lyrics meant to be enjoyed by English majors, especially when he straight-up mentions “narrative” and “past and present tense.” On “Everything Must Go!” he uses a garage sale as a metaphor for nostalgia and lost innocence, and in “This Is A Fire Door Never Leave Open” he sings about “metaphors as mixed as you could make them,” above the clamor of distorted guitars. The fury of the punk rock idiom is perfect for expressing the frustration inherent to English Majors: anyone who intends on graduating college with a marginally useful degree should certainly get used to the idea of relating to songs about “uncertainty” and “failure,” like “Aside.” I know I have.
5. The first ten songs all have the same set-up, right? The last of these, “Exiles Among You,” brings the album to a fiery conclusion, and so the last two tracks serve as an unexpected encore. “My Favourite Chords” is an earnest folk song, with Samson playing troubadour on his acoustic guitar before bringing in the drums and the lead guitar (which has since migrated to the right speaker). “Slips And Tangles” replaces the two guitars with a piano and a violin on lead (still in the right speaker, of course). The drums, with their slow cymbal crashes, are omnipresent. “Slips And Tangles” is a woozy and lethargic finale, a well-deserved respite after the tension and tempo of the album’s main set. Samson sings in inebriated fashion over accompaniment that might be called honky-tonk if it wasn’t so lazy. It’s a fitting conclusion to such an intelligent, introspective piece of work, and lets the listener know that, yeah, it’s ok to relax and let your hair down at the end of the night. As a guy who’s pretty stressed about the paper he’s delaying to write this review, I, for one, will drink to that.