Before I actually heard this latest record from this Canadian four-piece, I knew I had a gem on my hands. It wasn't that the cover design is ingenious. It wasn't that everything of late from the Weakerthans absolutely rules - even their music videos which you can check out on Launch. It wasn't that - everyone one knows - this is the love-lorn bass player from Propagandhi's band. It was because my friend John knew every word to the album in no time flat from day one. John is someone who was not a fan before initially hearing this record. And John is someone who can take something - anything from a two-second move in HK movie to a story of a fight in high school - and spin it into a story that makes you giddy like a school girl. Moreover, Reconstruction Site delivers on everything you could possible want and pushes your expectations higher.
The Weakerthans formed in Winnipeg in 1997 for at least one reason as an outlet for John Samson - the bassist in Propagandhi. His songs were such contrasts on Propagandhi's records that they were instantly cool - often literate - affairs. Now the Weakerthans are split between Toronto and Winnipeg, and curiously enough that seems to have made this latest record exceptional. They have two previous full-lengths both on Sub City Records and an EP. While it is hard to categorize their sound - and that is part of their allure - they are essentially a melodic punk band with strong influences from alt-country.
When I hear the first note of the opening track "(Manifest)" it instantly conjures up images and memories. Though these are not specific memories of anything based on connections with the Weakerthans, the images emerge of a cold, well-literate, morally-right and just atmosphere. Honestly, the Weakerthans remind me of an ex-girlfriend with an English degree living in Minnesota. While I haven't done a poll on this, I think similar imagery may be common.
I have to get this first point out of the way because it is eating me inside. On the cd there are four movies and two are music videos. One video is just a b&w instrumental affair. The other though is for their song "Our retired explore (dines with Michel Foucalt in Paris, 1961)." I initially wasn't entirely convinced that this was the best song to put the effort into making a video. Yet, how wrong I was became clear after a first viewing. The stage is set in Antarctica with Samson as an explorer going to do research. He slips and falls into his domicile and then is quasi-dreaming about having dinner with philosopher Foucalt. Exceptionally weird and funny. In keeping with the philosopher theme, Foucalt gives Samson a book by Derrida. The best part though comes after the line "...je suis comme ci, comme ca. Yes, a penguin taught me French back in Antarctica" - where a stuffed penguin enters the video and there is much dancing. Also on the odd side there is a woman just dancing behind Foucalt during the whole affair. I wound up watching the video like thirty times and playing for everyone I could.
On to the music. The record kicks off with the short and mellow "(Manifest)," setting the tone for the rest of the record. This is followed up with "The Reasons," one of the best tracks on Reconstruction Site. "The Reasons" is more power electric rock than "(Manifest)" and introduces the listener to the range of Samson's vocals and harmonies. The title track is a winding affair with licks of country and Samson telling stories of times ago. "Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call" utilizes backup from the band and is a slower number. To remind you that the Weakerthans are a rock band they blast back with the stellar "Plea From a Cat Named Virtue." Next is "Our Retired Explorer..." that I went through in reference to the video above. But one point of emphasis on the song is the timely and well-conceived bass peaks and valleys complementing the drumming. Again, this song should be number one everywhere - from elevators to escalators from country rock stars to gangsta superstars. "Time's Arrow" and "Uncorrected Proofs" follow along consistent lines. The Weakerthans come in blind-side with the Western "A New Name for Everything" with lap steel and pedal steel playing - this also ranks as one of the best. "(Hospital Verses)" and "(Past-Due)" add some electronics to the rock.
"One Great City!" is about why they love Winnipeg - as absolutely tongue-in-cheek (could you take the cold? Makes North Dakota look like Miami). Finally, "Benediction" finds Samson dueting with Sarah Harmer on more steel and "The Prescence of Dawn" has echoes of Jawbreaker.
As you probably have guessed Reconstruction Site is one of the best records of the year from a band that is on the up-and-up. I would be baffled if the Weakerthans don't get some serious attention and praise from the record. And unlike Propagandhi, the Weakerthans tour like a mo'fo and are likely to come screaming through your town - and such is clearly a signal and sign for you to do what is right.