The mood might change song by song, but the Weakerthans Left And Leaving is still one of the most easy-flowing pop records you'll hear all year. NProduced with few frills by Ian Blurton, the album veers from anthemic post-punk songs to moody interludes, ends with a couple of hushed, acoustic battle cries and is stacked with songs that become more addictive each time you listen to them.
It's the sweet sound of a band hitting its stride, and any similarities to the quartet's punkish debut Fallow seem purely coincidental.
Almost annoying "This is a pretty varied record, almost to the point of being annoying," laughs vocalist/guitarist John Samson from home. The Weakerthans play an afternoon and evening gig at Ted's Wrecking Yard Saturday (September 16).
"At least that's what I first thought when I heard it. It's got these rock songs and then these weird things that just fall apart. Ian had a big hand in putting it all in some kind of order.
"This is also the first record we've made where everyone was able to show their own aesthetic. We just decided that we'd be open to whatever people wanted to try, and it worked."
The tight instrumental interplay between the foursome is impressive, but what ties Left And Leaving together are Samson's evocative, intelligent lyrics. He's one of the few current songwriters whose lyrics work even without the music.
This isn't exactly foreign territory for Samson. When not playing music, he runs self-described "leftist propaganda" press Arbiter Ring. The imprint has published 10 books so far, from purely political writing to cultural criticism and a collection of short stories.
Left And Leaving's packaging takes its cue from that venture. The lyrics come in a booklet with a quotation from Auden, a footnote and a preface about alienation. Cheery stuff.
Hopeless people "I saw the preface when I was writing the lyrics and realized that that was what the record was going to be about," Samson offers. "It's about that hopeless sense of people who are trapped in places they don't want to be."
It's no surprise that most of those stories are centred in Winnipeg. Left And Leaving sketches out a love/hate relationship with the city.
Winnipeg is at the heart of many of the Weakerthans' songs, and Samson clearly thrives within Winnipeg's famously tight-knit arts community -- some proceeds from the disc even go to benefit the non-profit organization Arts City. But the relationship's far from perfect.
Winnipeg's apartheid "I've done a lot of travelling, and I always think of Winnipeg as a microcosm of everywhere I've been," he laughs. "This is a perfect test case for a city. It's isolated, so the community's quite close, it's incredibly poor and it's divided quite clearly along class and race lines. There's a form of apartheid that exists here -- you can live your entire life without meeting a native person, even though they make up a quarter of the population.
"At the same time, this is the place I come from and the place I understand, and I feel a certain duty to Winnipeg. I always come back here.
"In part, that's because you can be an artist here and survive. I run a publishing house and play in a band. I live terribly, but I'm not starving. I'm not sure if I could do that anywhere else."
THE WEAKERTHANS, at Ted's Wrecking Yard (549 College), Saturday (September 16), all-ages matinee and licensed eve. $10. 928-5012.