Album Review: Le Ren – Leftovers

[Secretly Canadian; 2021]

The first introduction to Le Ren for many was under beautiful, delicate, but deeply saddening circumstances. Her debut EP, 2020’s Morning & Melancholia, was a brief but affecting document where Le Ren (née Lauren Spear) reckoned with the loss of her ex-boyfriend who died in a car crash a couple of years before the EP’s release. Its appeal was as much the grief Spear expressed with her delicate voice (which always seemed to teeter on the edge of absolute anguish) as it was the sparse guitar arrangements. The whole thing sounded like it had been quietly and carefully lured out of a dark shadow and into a sliver of sunlight.

That sunlight has stuck around on Le Ren’s debut album, Leftovers. There’s still some melancholy lingering, but this time round it seems to be from Spear timidly reckoning with her place in the world. She describes the album as “a collection of feelings and moments of the past that still remain relevant to my present.”

Sadness and lovelorn sentiments still find their way into the mix here. “I swear I’m just crying once a day every day,” she admits on the slow waltz of “Was I Not Enough?” At the other end of the record she’s pleading to not be made to “weep like a willow.” “Now that I’m yours / Go easy on me,” she adds soon after, a country smear of pedal steel and violin stirring the teary lyrics. 

Despite these mournful moments and the album’s timid and gentle tone, Leftovers is more of a reassurance record of sorts; it’s a document of comfortable thanks to family, friends, and what the world has blessed Spear with. Warm and quietly swaying album highlight “Dyan” is a dedication to Spear’s mother, capturing the quiet awe and unconditional love between mother and child. “Our bodies are far apart but I feel her in the air / If I could look into the centre of the sun well I think I’d see her there.” The familial feel of the album also extends to the Ali Vanderkruyk-directed videos for the record’s single, which feature various contributions from Spear’s family as well as touching and sweet home videos.

“Friends Are Miracles” speaks for itself with the title alone, but again Spear captures that intangible feeling that connects two souls without it sounding fussed over. “We are miracles standing as tall as we can / and we’re making it through,” she sings with a genuine sincerity and love in her voice, even though it hints at hard times lived through. “Annabelle and Maryanne” is a reassuring duet with Tenci, full of big, open, and rambling guitar chords, like two strangers are singing seamlessly on their first ever meeting. It’s this kind of feeling that Spear captures so wonderfully, and what helps her gain comparisons to the likes of Joni Mitchell and Vashti Bunyan; these songs feel like long lost folk and light country tracks you might find in your parents’ cassette or vinyl collection. It’s hard to imagine a time in the past 60 or so years where these songs wouldn’t feel out of place with the surrounding musical landscape.

For all its absolute loveliness and neat arrangements (not a hair here sounds out of place), Leftovers is quickly and easily consumed. It’s a delightful 34 minutes of music through and through, and it’s unlikely to ever sound bad or unwelcome in any environment. Yet it feels so easy to run through that it soon wears out repeated listens for lack of finding any tiny details in the corners of the songs. Cleanliness doesn’t leave much room for surprises, and Leftovers sounds like it has been thoroughly swept free of any dust. 

The promise of what more Le Ren had to say (be it about her heartbreak or other matters) after Morning & Melancholia is part of what made it leave such a lasting impression. Leftovers shows us that Spear has plenty of wonderful observations to make about the world and the people in her life (“My book has dog-eared pages / But I won’t read them again” she observes wistfully on “Your Cup”), but it somehow doesn’t carry as much weight this time round. “Only time will bring me something that is real,” Spear concluded on “How To Begin To Say Goodbye” from her EP. Leftovers may not offer that something she was after, but it’s an undeniably pleasing document of how a surrounding life of family, friends, and personal encounters is perhaps the thing that is real. Only time can turn them into something else.