Review Summary: Somewhere someone says, "I'm sorry," someone's making plans to stay.
Without meaning to employ hyperbole but doubtlessly failing, Left And Leaving
is one of those immensely powerful and enveloping albums which sounds as though it has no genre. It's often easy to forget how huge the musical art form is as a result of the narrow scope we have on it, but very frequently we overlook how arbitrary it can become; 2 guitars, a bass guitar, a drumset and a microphone are the components which now come with a Start Your Own Band
kit, and how depressing is that? Music is simply an art form whose medium is sound; that we restrict ourselves to those parameters with such great frequency is almost criminal.
So by now, if you haven't heard of The Weakerthans
before you opened this review, you will be expecting me to assert that when John K. Samson left Propagandhi
it was because he had tired of all convention; that the band he formed soon after was a wildly experimental outfit intent on challenging the pre-conceived ideas we have of rock songs. But what if I told you that almost the exact opposite were true? Disappointed? Please don't be. Because when I said that Left And Leaving
seems to have no genre, I meant it in a much warmer, more affectionate way. With all of the arbitrary techniques and ideas we use in music, it is so rare to find a record which sounds entirely - completely
- at ease, comfortable within its own skin.
What that entails, of course, is not a great deal of musical innovation at all, and would that such a realisation concluded this review. But no; while The Weakerthans are inconspicuous, they are by no means invisible. Part of this is down to those arbitrary guitars, distorted or plucked to familiar degrees, but playing out the affecting melodies that soar and dip at the most perfect points. Part of it is down to the standard-mix rock drums, behaving completely predictably but still exploding in the chorus and providing all the momentum necessary. But no. Ignore this; this is a lie. These things are just the framework; the only reason Left and Leaving
is an album worth your time is John K. Samson.
If you find that lyrics are an integral part of your listening experience, it would suffice to place the entirety of what Samson sings in his matter of fact tone on 'This Is A Fire Door, Never Leave Open', but to do so would be to take those words out of context, out of position, out of their beds in the framework so effortlessly and masterfully crafted by the unassuming band that accompanies Samson. He is less of a conductor, more of a protagonist, but entirely a poet; gut-shot revelations of despair mix with intricate and extensive metaphors and none of it is pretentious; he simply describes the sort of feelings brought about by painful situations without any mention of emotion.
This is why it does not matter whether Left and Leaving
is rocking, stumbling or relaxing, which are its three moods in equal measure, because every second of it harbours an intensity courtesy of Samson's incredible talent to weave characters and scenery around uncomplicated guitar chords and various tempos. Combine these things with the simple fact that everything's beautiful simplicity - even Samson's lyrics are rarely puzzling - renders the album unbelievably catchy, and it's clear to appreciate why these songs are so difficult to get away from. They are heavy, emotional and sincere, but in the same moment carefree, epitomising the whole beauty in pain
rhetoric that too often becomes a cliché.
I am told that, in fact, Left and Leaving
is a punk album, but there is a large part of me which thinks it is actually far more pop. That does not make it a pop-punk record; don't believe that for a second. It is straightforward, simple, direct, relatable and very, very passionate. It is packed with hooks and dramatic, almost cinematic moments of brilliance. It exists in a void, and is deserving of the highest praise possible. Go listen. Now.