Having missed the Minneapolis stop of “The First Leith Ross Tour Ever” on June 14th, I decided I would have to supplement by writing an album review. It’s been almost a month since To Learn, the sophomore album from Winnipeg based folk artist Leith Ross came out (release date May 19, 2023), so I’ve had plenty of time to listen and listen and listen. After constant harkening I’ve concluded the album can best be compared to a big bowl of soup. Ross’ sickly sweet voice and melodies slide down easy, warming and calming from the inside out. From soft folk ballads to indie pop bops, the album takes listeners through a multitude of emotions sonically and lyrically with seemingly effortless beauty and timely delivery. It’s simply a pleasure to listen to.
Lyrically, this record is about love. What record isn’t? “I Just Don’t Think You Like Me That Much Anymore”, “To Me” and “Orlando” are breakup anthems about the frank realization that you’ve given so much of yourself to someone who hasn’t done the same. They are beautiful and slow and heartbreaking and relatable– the key characteristics of a sad girl tune! Ross also gives us a “happy little love song” in “(You) On My Arm”, a catchy tune about the joys of having a crush (with a killer slide guitar opening).
But where this album transcends the cliche twenty-something artist and even Ross’s past work is in the diversity of love. “We’ll Never Have Sex”, a single from the album that gained some traction on TikTok, appreciates the beauty of purely platonic relationships.”Guts” and the following track “Ask First” provide a catharsis and a drawing of boundaries that seem to me like forms of self-love. The announcement of a video accompaniment that shows Ross getting their hair cut in a variety of places by a variety of friends confirms this emphasis on community and self-love in addition to any themes of romance. This album feels necessary for Ross at this time, a celebration of their queerness and a release of clear odes to sexual abuse. Despite its deeply personal connotations, the album is universal enough to resonate with any listener. It feels necessary for anyone angry or grieving, anyone longing for and celebrating community, anyone looking for themselves.
Throughout the album, I was struck by Ross’s delivery. It’s as if their voice floats away from the instrumentals momentarily, giving the lyrics a rhythm of their own, before rejoining with the frills and plucks of the melodies. Ross knows just how to exploit the intricacies of their music. Without ever exceeding a speaking level volume, they convey joy, indignation, apathy and hope.
Songs I have had on repeat are “(You) On My Arm” and “Too Much Time in My House Alone”. The latter opens with “At the back of a slingshot/ Hoping there’s no rot in the wood”, a seamless depiction of trying to live with optimism and courage. “(You) On My Arm” is just fun to sing along to.
“Guts” is also an obvious standout: a powerful indie rock ballad that allows Ross to release pent up anger and reclaim themselves. The middle of the song turns into a bridge of Ross singing “Do their mother’s know?/ I know it’s not really their fault, but I/ I do think that she’d cry if I called”, which I found to be an alarmingly heartbreaking perspective on such a matter. For Ross to put themselves in the shoes of an abuser’s mother shows an unusual amount of empathy.
Overall, To Learn seems a more emotionally mature and confident record than Ross’s previous effort Motherwell, setting the stage for more wonderful stuff to come. It’s way too soon to anticipate new music so for now I’ll continue listening to To Learn as I fall asleep, a soundtrack and guide to my confusing young life.