Sunday, March 22, 2009

Record Nostalgia.

Left and leaving isn't my favourite Weakerthans album, but it was my first. It was 2002, and I had just started my high school life. It was my first purchase at Backstreet Records, which has become my favourite record store, and the favourite of many. It cost me $8.99, still sealed in plastic, at that point still their latest album (Reconstruction Site being still a year on the horizon).

From the first tentative steps of Everything Must Go!, I knew I was in love. As soon as the drums kick in about half a minute into the song, the beauty overwhelms me, and it just keeps on building. John's lyrics are more than gorgeous. Their complexity, their oddity, so different than anything I'd known up to that point. (If you'll recall, until I reached high school, I was a bit of a dweeb when it came to music). But then! Then comes Aside, which has the same beauty, the same lyrical complexity, but the sound of it stays true to the band's punk roots: roaring distortion, interspersed with the... oh, it's so hard for me to analyse an album I've loved for all my music-loving life. I'm leaning on this broken fence between past and present tense. It's beautiful. It's punk! It's punk in its everything that it is except for genre.

The album just continues on the upward trajectory. Every song shows everything that the Weakerthans are, and can be. There is no low point to the album. They're all just high points, varying degrees of wonderful. I don't know what I should do with my hands when I talk to you, and you don't know where you should look, so you look at my hands. It's not all lyrical complexity. Some, like that bit from Pamphleteer, are beautiful in their simplicity, beautiful in their universal application. The album is a masterpiece, and every masterpiece has a keystone. In Left and Leaving's case, it has two.

The first one we come across is the title track, which is in my mind one of the greatest Canadian songs. I can't say anything about it that hasn't already been said. It is as much about Winnipeg and John's relationship with it as it is about any individual and his relationship with his hometown, the people there, the whole of the sentiment. I'm listening to it now, and I simply can't think straight or even see straight. The song has such a profound effect on me, and I'm sure if you've heard it you know what I mean. In the liner notes, the lyrics begin with an epigraph by Catherine Hunter, and I think this exemplifies anything you need to know, but I can't put forward for this effect it has on me:

and for a moment both of you believe
you can hear the city breathing

you are both tired, you want to be done

The other cornerstone, at the end of the record, is My Favourite Chords. This is the first Weakerthans song ever did I hear, and has stuck with me since. This is the song that sent me hunting after the album, this is the song that created my love affair with the band. It is simple, it is adorable, it is terrifying, it is beautiful. This is what music should be. I can't do any of this justice. I am so sorry for writing this, this inconsequential little nothing, because my trying to express my love for this album comes up so short. I am a faulty string of blue christmas lights [...] I'm blinking off and on and off again.

I'm seeing the Weakerthans tonight, for the first time.

Rating: 10/10
Released: 25 July 2000

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