If you live in Seattle, like I do, chances are you're fairly sick of hearing about Carissa's Wierd. There was a time about a year ago where it was virtually impossible to open a copy of a certain local weekly alternative paper without tripping over several glowing references to the sad little band with the deliberately misspelled name. It got to the point where one wondered whether the editorial staff of said paper actually listened to anything besides Carissa's Wierd.
For a long time, I could never understand why the band got so much positive attention, as all I could glean from the musings of Mat Brooke and Jenn Ghetto were sad little songs that sounded like a less ambitious version of Bright Eyes. Not bad, exactly, but not terribly distinctive either.
However, it seems as if the band has finally caught up with their good press, as Songs About Leaving is a harrowing, personal, borderline devastating album that exudes sadness and beauty in equal proportions. Although there are many great moments on this album, for the purposes of argument, let's skip straight to the chorus of song #3, "So You Wanna Be a Superhero", where Jenn Ghetto sings "I might be leaving soon" over a bed of insistent yet haunting guitars. Her doubletracked voice is supremely eerie, and with her quavering delivery, she makes sure you know that she's talking about leaving for good. This assertion is weighed out later in the song, when she whispers, "I'll make you proud someday / I just won't be around to see your face".
Although nothing else on the album quite reaches that spine-chilling peak, practically every song here aches with a ghostly beauty not often seen in pop music. When they sing together, Brooke's and Ghetto's voices wrap around each other's in a wraithlike fashion, complementing each other perfectly. When they sing separately, Mat Brooke still sounds a little like a less-melodramatic Conor Oberst, but it's no longer a distracting comparison. For her part, Ghetto evokes Chan Marshall at her inevitable pre-breakdown shakiest. Her voice is a beautiful instrument, but sometimes hard to listen to, as her whispers always go straight for the gut.
Musically, most of these songs reside in chamber-folk territory, with violins swooping over quietly plucked acoustic and electric guitars and barely-there percussion. The opener, "You Should Be Hated Here", sets the sepia-tinged tone for the rest of the album, with Brooke and Ghetto sinuously complimenting each other's voices over a creaky bed of droning guitars. From there, "Silently Leaving the Room" waltzes in with a similarly autumnal mood -- tinkling piano briefly takes the forefront before being subsumed in a fog of swooning violin and Mat Brooke's dejected, half-broken voice.
Practically every song here has some defining, ear-catching moment. Whether it's the gentle guitar arpeggios of "Ignorant Piece of Shit" that morph into a rolling drumbeat, then swan dive onto a soft bed of violins, where Brooke and Ghetto are harmonizing on the words "I like the way you roll your eyes right before you fall down", or the utterly dramatic combination of Ghetto's voice and reverb-laden, claustrophobic-sounding guitars on "Sofisticated Fuck Princess Please Leave Me Alone", this album will drag you into its world whether or not you're prepared to go there. However, one way or the other, it's virtually guaranteed that you'll enjoy the trip.