New Words For Old Desires

I don't know what happened, but for the last week all I've been listening to is The Weakerthans. Mostly from their first two albums: FALLOW (1999) and the essential LEFT AND LEAVING (2000). It's one of those moments where one of the needles in the haystack of your iTunes library gets pulled up on shuffle and you realize, hey, this was a pretty great song, I should put this album on my queue.

I was 13 years old when they came out, so I didn't get to examine them in their time. I can't even pinpoint when I did finally get into LEFT AND LEAVING. I know that "Watermark" was one of those songs my sister played and thus was part of this familiar background music. It would have been sometime in college that I found the whole album to be my shit, and I only picked up all of FALLOW during this most recent kick.

They're a little dated, definitely the kind of 90's power chord music that isn't really around anymore. Coupled with John Samson's timeless opie voice, it's music that would sound right at home as the intro music to a 90's teen romance flick - EMPIRE RECORDS or 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. Something with Freddie Prinze Jr. I feel like this type of music became unfashionable after Blink-182 and their also-rans rushed through the scene. Today the style would be to let the guitars breathe a little more, with echo and space, a sound that is harder to pin down. But I can't imagine a romp like "Aside" with anything less than these driving guitars. It's become part of the charm, like 90's nostalgia or retro trappings.

I'm stunned at how many good lines Samson has crammed into the songs on these two albums. It's not necessarily the bigger picture emotions or stories being told, just individual lines that cut with pin-like precision. Rap music lights up the amygdala when certain bombastic lines are dropped, and I have the same appreciation for The Weakerthan's style of specific, musical and emotive writing. Except it's not about attitude, it's depression. The song, "This Is A Fire Door Never Leave Open" is overflowing with this kind of well crafted, efficient sadness - "Where a small knife tears at the sloppy seams / and your silence knows what your silence means / and your metaphors, as mixed as you can make them, are linked / like days together."

It's about the consonants and alliteration and the musicality of these words put together, just as much as it is about the feeling you get from hearing them set to a rousing electric guitar thrash. It's hard to get a sense of the melody through text, but Samson's singing is always within the range of normal speaking tones. He doesn't go for the tail ends of pitch, so pretty much anyone can sing these songs, and that makes them inviting. They're elliptical, easy, and infectious melodies that invite you to learn the words and belt them out with him.

Fuck. Another good one: "Rely a bit too heaviily on alcohol and irony / get clobbered on by courtesy / in love with love and lousy poetry"

I wasn't surprised to find that FALLOW and LEFT AND LEAVING were only a year apart. It's a quick turnaround, and you can sense it in the way that these songs seem to come from the same place. By the time they were recording LEFT AND LEAVING, you can tell not much had evolved in terms of where they were at that point in their life. There's a lot about Winnipeg here, about leaving it behind or coming back to it and all that entails. There's a lot about coming back to relationships, too. FALLOW has the introspective "None Of The Above" (which is ripe with perfect details, "Lukewarm coffee tastes like soap / I trace your outline in spilled sugar")while LEFT AND LEAVING has the title track to hit on the same nostalgia. "Count yellow highway lines that you're relying on / to lead you home."

I memorized this line years ago: "If I could I would make you a raging river / with angry rapids supplied with rain / so you could always meander and always be able to run away."

I like "you" lyrics. That is, lyrics that speak directly to someone, but not the listener. They're not songs about "her" or "him" or "she." There's a voyeuristic thrill to it, I think, like peeping into someone's deeply personal writing. It doesn't take much to craft, I know, but it's the cheapness of that jolt that makes it addictive. The Weakerthans songs, on these two albums, is full of "you" - "We fell a little deep / I watched you fall asleep" or "When I get a new guitar / you can have this one." It's the shortcut to intimacy that they know how to utilize as good as anyone.