My head hurts. I’ve spent the day freaking out about my idiot dog eating chocolate early this AM, worrying that those guys I saw when I left the house for work were casing the place, and trying to juggle answering the office phone with finishing up an urgent mess my assistant didn’t bother to do, and now, on top of all that, the coffee’s wearing off, leaving me with the mother of all headaches. It’s been a bad day all ‘round, and far from the ideal environment in which to have to review some CD by some band I’ve only vaguely heard of before. I put the CD on, fully anticipating to hate whatever comes out of the headphones; I’m almost looking forward to venting my frustration on this poor, hapless band, blasting them as losers just so I can feel better.
But I can’t. I wish I could come up with more reasons, but the one I’ve got is a simple one: Left and Leaving is a damn perfect album, and there’s no way I could trash it, even if I wanted to. There’s not much musically groundbreaking, I’ll admit, and there are a lot of influences or comparisons—Joel R.L. Phelps, for one (lyrics and that gritty guitar sound), alongside Silver Scooter (the vocals), Tom Waits (the freaky, down-on-their-luck characters of the songs’ stories), The Replacements (the full-on rock of the faster track), and “emo” heroes Elliott—but they’re so well-combined that the result is something I’d hardly hoped to stumble upon. Hating this album would be like hating the sky at night; it’s just not possible, and pointless and stupid to try.
At any rate, I was hooked from the very first track, “Everything Must Go!”, the title of which belies the song itself in its jauntiness; it’s a quiet, delicate, up-front meditation on cutting ties to past friends and lovers via a garage sale. The CD takes a quick right turn on the next two tracks, the pop-punk anthems “Aside” and “Watermark”, and kicks them into Hüsker Dü-style overdrive, then follows up with “Pamphleteer”, one of the most gorgeous, poignant songs I’ve ever heard—here The Weakerthans cover the subject of loneliness and the end of relationships better than any sappy Top-40 ballad could ever aspire to, and even manage to hit flawlessly on the struggle to decide between love and “the cause” as they move on through.
Equally incredible are the title song, “Left and Leaving”, an eloquent, defiant kiss goodbye to a dying year, and “Exiles Among You”, a quick, powerful blast of Replacements-esque rock about a young girl stuck on the streets, barely surviving (part of the proceeds of the CD, by the way, go to benefit Art City, a free-to-all art center for Winnipeg’s inner-city kids). In between, there’s also the rocking “This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open”, the subdued trailer-park swing of “History to the Defeated”, and “Without Mythologies”, a mostly drums-and-vocals tune that brings to mind Soul Coughing’s free-form, depressive poetry—all beautiful; what else can I say? The album’s title says it all, really: every song on Left and Leaving is about loss, about getting left behind, about moving on, and about the depression that comes with it all, and strange though it may be, I feel lifted up just in listening to it unfold.