The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving

Nothing except a little movement towards the mainstream, a new batch of songs, and some more time to gel. They still sound All-Canadian and 4/4 timey, and even the songs that aren’t in 4/4 time sure sound like they are – they just have that “standard rock” feel to them. Which has its pros and cons – mainly that it means that they fly entirely based on their lyrics and themes, and have relatively little happening musically save the occasional catchy guitar lick-a-stick.

Despite their being older than most new bands – because they were in other bands first – the first album sounded like a high-school album, and this one sounds like more of a young collegian album. More self-conscious. More openly clever as well, and with a little less punky soundsmanship. The self-awareness robs them of a bit of their all-important pathos, and it’s rather sad. So while it’s probably more technically accomplished than the previous one…I’m not quite as crazy about it. And god damnit, it’s such a singles album! I love the faster-paced “Aside” and “Watermark,” which feature plenty of winning couplets (“We’re talented and bright / We’re lonely and uptight” from the latter, for instance), and once when I saw them in concert in Guelph one time, after the line “Rely a bit too heavily on alcohol and irony” from “Aside” my friend nudged me in the ribs and said “that’s you!” And that was cool. And, of course, the kinda emo, slowish, folkish, countryish title track about a lover leaving (and oneself not leaving) Winnipeg is fantastic and heartbreaking, just like the last album’s slowish, folkish, countryish title track about leaving or not leaving Winnipeg! Aw, man, dig these words: “My city is still breathing / But barely, it’s true / Through buildings gone missing like teeth / The sidewalks are watching me think about you / Sparkled with broken glass / I’m back with scars to show / Back with the streets I know will never take me anywhere but here.” Whee! I saw my girlfriend cry to those words just last week! Buildings gone missing like teeth? EEEEE!

And then the rest of the album is kinda eh. The first song is another slow brushy one that sounds decently resigned (yes, they hit the same emotions over and over from album to album), and “Pamphleteer” is, in a neat change of pace, soaring musically but disappointing lyrically, and THAT’S IT. “Without Mythologies” is a terrible “experimental” “dark” song that tries to tap the lame Incubus-ish “Indian” sound and ends up being dopey and mercifully forgetful, and after track 7 (the awesome title track) there’s not much that goes on, just a mediocre slow rocker, the album’s least successful fast-paced song, and the album’s two least successful slow songs – notice! “Slips and Tangles” doesn’t get to be dramatic just because it has piano and strings! They’re all not bad, just rather forgetful and on the same themes of rah-rahing outcasts and crises and playing in construction sites as adults. And I love those things, but they do the same things way better just songs earlier!

So we’ve got three great songs, two pretty good songs, one bad songs, and five forgetful ones. But those three great songs. Ah, how they desire to be put on mixtapes labeled “Me – 2003-2007” and sent to (hopefully hot) friends in faraway places.

6/10

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