With Reconstruction Site, Winnipeg's beloved Weakerthans take their first serious shot at winning the noble hearts and racing minds of thoughtful indie kids and sensitive punks beyond the Canadian borders.
The quartet's third album arrives internationally via Cali-punk institution Epitaph Records instead of G7 Welcoming Committee, the label run by frontman John K. Samson's old agit-hardcore outfit Propagandhi. And although Blurtonia's Ian Blurton returns to the producer's chair he occupied most memorably on 2000's wintry, weatherbeaten Left And Leaving, Reconstruction Site has been dealt a spiffy mix job by Foo Fighters/Queens of the Stone Age boardsman Adam Kaspar.
The crisp sound and compact punch of high-impact power-pop numbers like "The Reasons" and "Plea From A Cat Named Virtue" might suggest a bid for wider commercial appeal in other hands, but this is still an unfailingly brainy outfit that writes songs inspired by Martin Amis novels ("Time's Arrow") and camouflages its highly approachable hooks with such daunting titles as "Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)" and "Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call." Let's see Much On Demand get its head around those.
The Weakerthans' affinity for sticky pop confectionery hasn't been a secret since they quoted New Order on Fallow four years ago, anyway.
What made Left And Leaving such an understated masterpiece was its range, the way it balanced the band's not-as-simple-as-they-sound four-chord rockers against creakier interludes that betrayed an emotive roots-rock band lying just beneath the loud guitars.
The distribution isn't quite as even on Reconstruction Site, but the Weakerthans' gentler side shines on "One Great City," Samson's dry evocation of the love/hate relationship Winnipeg residents share with their hometown, and the devastatingly real title track, which moves from a child's-eye account of a wedding reception into a piercing evocation of our own mortality. As a lyricist, Samson's never been better.
Reconstruction Site isn't so much a step forward as a reaffirmation and tight focussing of the Weakerthans' best qualities, but it's still another great album from a band more of the world should hear. Rock 'n' roll for readers and diarists, barroom philosophers and soft-shelled cynics given to compulsive contemplation.
By Ben Rayner