It usually sucks when someone leaves the band; especially when it’s a longtime member. But like in most situations, you can take a positive outlook on things. This was the case with Canadian punk trio Propagandhi in 1996 after releasing their second album ‘Less Talk, More Rock’. Original bassist John K. Samson left the group to pursue different ideas and eventually form The Weakerthans the following year. With Samson leaving Propagandhi, two good things came out of this, again if you focus on the positive aspects as oppose to the negative. Propagandhi would take a heavier route and go on to make arguably their finest record in ‘Today’s Empires Tomorrow’s Ashes’, and The Weakerthans would become one of Canada’s favorite alternative bands making some essential indie albums.
Samson showed with Propagandhi (or anyone who has heard his early demos) he had talent. His higher pitched voice contrasted and the songs that he did write definitely stood out. With The Weakerthans Samson took complete control to have more freedom to write and show even more of his fantastic writing abilities and ideas. Though he played bass before, Samson plays guitar of all kinds here and completing the Weakerthans lineup is Stephen Carroll on guitar, John Sutton on bass and piano and drummer Jason Tait. Releasing their debut record, ‘Fallow’, in 1997 on Propagandhi’s G-7 Welcoming Committee label; it instantly showed great potential of an up and coming band. Three years later came the bands sophomore album, the featured ‘Left and Leaving’ and the band seemed to have reached their peak. With Samson’s signature voice, unique and witty lyrics, a lighter sound yet with a still punk edge with signs of folk, pop and alt rock; it was perhaps Samson’s, and indeed the rest of the bands best work to date.
The majority of ‘Left and Leaving’ relies on John’s introspective, personal and poetically written lyrics; motstly written in first person, overlapping the often times discrete, leisurely backing instrumentals. And the album could not rely on a greater strength. It’s the lyrics that will grip you in every song, whether they are about a quirky event of a day in the life, romances, loneliness or lessons of the world around him it will be sure to capture your attention. A self analysis in Aside
shows just a look at one of his styles, with lines such as “Measure me in metered lines and one decisive stare, the time it takes to get from here to there; my ribs that show through t-shirts and these shoes I got for free, I'm unconsoled, I'm lonely I am so much better than I used to be”. Other lyrics are laced with clever, sometimes obscured metaphors and delicate subjects of John’s.
‘Left and Leaving’ is an album full of substance; one that will most likely grow on you and may require some time to fully absorb. But there will be those songs that will hit you right off the bat. Aside
is a loud, catchy rocker that could maybe pass for an old Samson Propagandhi song ala Anchorless
with its lively riff and memorable chorus. Watermark
is follows in the same vein as Aside albeit a slightly darker manner but catchy all the same. On the opposite side of the spectrum, tracks like the gloomy, pondering title track and bare folk of My Favorite Chords
depend strictly on simplicity, lyrical messages and vocals, and succeed at that; both standout tracks. Slips and Tangles
, which was first written in ’93 on a demo, is a relaxing, soothing closer that captures the mood of the album and makes room for some piano and lets Tait’s hi-hats take some of the spotlight off the vocals. Another quality song, Elegy for Elsabet
is a sleepy low-fi, distortion filled tune that fits comfortably in the middle of the record and rather long at 6:20.
The albums flow is excellent, and although instrumentally, and even vocally the songs get samey and formulaic, it does not detract from the overall quality. The majority of the album is written in 4/4 (“I wait in 4/4 time” John sings on the title track) time with but a few exceptions are added, like History to the Defeated
(written in 3/4). Without Mythologies
certainly stands out with its strange, echoing drum intro and John’s intensely sung lyrics. Exiles Among You
is another oddity in the bunch that stands out from the regularly calmer tracks due to the blaring guitar intro and despite the tame verses, but ends on a roaring note showing they can play with the amps turned up too.
The Weakerthan’s ‘Left and Leaving’ has the potential to become a favorite album quick, or at the least be appreciated on one level or another. The lyrics, its obvious focal point, are hard for anyone to disprove of. With sincere and passionate vocals over bare instrumentals, catchy pop punk-fueled rhythms, intellectual, reflective lyrics, it’s purely a well crafted album. ‘Left and Leaving’ will, and already has begun to, be a remembered album within and hopefully beyond its genre and country.
Left and Leaving
This Is A Fire Door Never Leave Open
Elegy for Elsabet
Slips and Tangles