The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

The Weakerthans are apparently quite popular in their native Canada. The neighbor to the north is reasonably well-represented in my collection. Besides this band, there is Neil Young (obviously) and Leonard Cohen and Cub. I have a couple of Sloan albums, as well as one by related band the Flashing Lights. The New Pornographers. Tegan and Sara are Canadian, as is Alvvays. No Rush or Tragically Hip for me, though.

What I Think of This Album

John K. Samson’s fundamentally humane songs are communicated through detailed imagery and from an unflinchingly proletarian perspective, bringing grace and dignity to the dispossessed – whether it be of emotional, existential, or remunerative satisfaction – and the downtrodden. As usual, this works best when the rest of the band – now augmented by multi-instrumentalist Stephen Carroll – provides a robust backing to match the emotional intensity of the lyrics.

So, go forth and celebrate the pumping “Aside,” in which the narrator self-assesses “Rely a bit too heavily on alcohol and irony / Get clobbered on by courtesy / In love with love and lousy poetry.” Similarly, “Watermark” throbs with compassion, as Samson speaks of “the metal of those hearts you always end up pressing your tongue to” and offers to “scrub that brackish line that you got when something rose and then receded.” A relationship is explored in agonizing detail in wiry “This Is a Fire Door Never Leave Open,” whereas homelesness is observed in “Exiles Among You.” Among the slower songs that work is the glowing coal of “Pamphleteer,” with which its kinship to Warren Zevon’s “Mutineer,” evolves to become something about much more than handing out Marxist literature on street corners. “Without Mythologies” is equal parts sparse and majestic, punctuated by massive tom hits, while Samson spits out lyrics that are once impressionistic and grounded in a very physical reality. And the title track aches beautifully without ever being inaccessible. “My Favorite Chords” is mostly acoustic guitar but employs an upbeat melody and typically fascinating lyrical nuggets from Samson. And while I don’t much care for “Elegy for Elsabet,” the solo is pretty cool.

The booklet is once again littered with quotes, the source ranging from Marx & Engels to Canadian literary figures Catherine Hunter and Alden Nowlen to labor activist Ralph Chaplin (who designed the IWW black cat symbol) to poet W.H. Auden. Drummer Jason Tait is credited with playing the switchblade, and I’m not sure how I’m supposed to listen for that. A few songs sag a bit, making this indeed an “imperfect offering,” but I’m not so sure that we deserve better.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Aside,” though I don’t feel strongly that it’s that much better than several others here.

Release Date

July, 2000

The Cover Art

I don’t like it, but it works. It’s got that random, elegiac, mysterious, detailed quality that matches the feel of Samson’s lyrics.

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