The entire slowcore ‘genre’ has been mostly a waste of people feeling sorry for themselves instead of music that’s useful (ie. for empathy, for catharsis – just listen to a soul record or something). Why should we be surprised? Being slow doesn’t automatically equate with being sad, just lugubrious (“looking sad”). That being said, I’ve always found Songs About Leaving to be a charming record, released during the indie high-mark of the first half of the decade (amongst other orchestrated indie records, like Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, You Forgot It In People, ( ) and that shitty Beck album; even Sleater-Kinney was adding eclectic instruments to bolster their politics that year): the Smashing Pumpkins-esque spelling mistake in the band name and song names too, and speaking of, the evocative song titles (similar to Max Richter’s Memoryhouse that same year) with the exception of the innocuous and innocuously-named “The Piano Song”. (Christ, even the fact that a modest band like these guys would have song titles has heavy as “Ignorant Piece of Shit” and “Sofisticated Fuck Princess Please Leave Me Alone” is a marvel.) In fact, I’d take this over any Low album (whose employ of boy-girl vocals make them the obvious comparison): the harmonies are better executed, the lyrics are less vague and the colors are more autumnal instead of gray.
The best song comes early: “You Should Be Hated Here” proves all of that. Mat Brooke and S’ (the girl vocalist) are singing completely different verses on top of each other’s in, say, a more harmonious version of the Velvet Underground’s “The Murder Mystery”, and the same effect occurs: you’ll catch snippets of phrases that emerge through the fog (“…you were wronnnnnng”; “…on the freeway standing stupid looking blind”; “…so sorry now”). Harmonies that don’t merely harmonize! Whodathunkit? In fact, the lyrics in the climax – to say nothing of the climax itself – are basically worth quoting entirely: “You should be hated here by now” is a turn of phrase on its own (“should” being the key word), but the power is immediately amplified by the following confession, “This was the prettiest lie that I told tonight”; the imagery of “The unmade bed inside the room / Where I don’t feel comfortable at all / Where blankets stare at me for hours / And I stare right back so self-righteously.” And the music does quite a lot in under 3 minutes, from the subtle shift in the guitar figure under the command “Attempting one thing to stand up” to the aforementioned climax.
S gets a few tracks where she sings alone, and both are highlights (which makes it odd considering her solo album the previous year was so drab): “So You Wanna Be a Superhero” and “Sofisticated Fuck Princess,” both of which take bedroom-sung vocals and put them over good momentum; she delivers “Long look in the mirror / Just…looks so blankly” perfectly with the pause and the half-stutter delivering the rest of the line, and there’s visceral anger in the latter: “By just thinking of yourself / It’s not your pretty face that matters”; “Saying sad things that don’t make sense / Can just make you look like a liar.” (Also, on the former, the hook “I might be leaving soon,” is inherently sad, same as the bridge in Pavement’s “Silence Kit” – you know the line.)
A ‘B+’ for all of that; the rest of the album ranges from– and I’m using this word again – innocuousness (“The Piano Song”; “A New Holiday (November 16th”) to song lengths that are baffling long such that the innocuousness becomes offensive (“September Take This Heart Away” and “Low Budget Slow Motion Soundtrack From the Leaving Scene”). As for “September,” just compare to “Silently Leaving the Room,” whose melody works up at least some bite, and which goes somewhere – they add an unraveling second string in the second half, whereas the string arrangement on “September” is much more conventional throughout. Elsewhere, “Ignorant Piece of Shit” might’ve been saved with a better drummer and I liked “It Was Probably Green, (March 19th, 1983)” back when it was called “1/1” from Music for Airports.