August 27, 2003 - You could call the music contained within this album post-punk, emo, jangly indie rock, or what have you. I prefer to simply call it solid f@#king rock and roll instilled with a wide range of mature musical and emotional thrust. It's the kind of album that quietly taps you on the shoulder and then sneakily sucker punches you when you turn around to see who it is.
Hailing from the Canadian burg of Winnipeg, The Weakerthans borrow swatches of style from vintage '80s indie rock, classic Americana and old school country cum bar room guitar theatrics crossed with elements of expressive punk, not to mention the occasional horn inflected resonance. All of this rich musical diversion is held together by front man John K. Samson's reedy vocals and bittersweet sunset lyricism. It must be noted that the likes of author Martin Amis, playwright John Berger, and poets Catherine Hunter, Patrick Friesen, and James Agee are quoted extensively throughout the liner notes, which should give you some idea of the lyrical stance being displayed herein.
The album commences with "Manifest," a short, but ultimately sweet little ditty that benefits from some winsomely mournful trumpet intertwining through the marching snare drum rhythms and countrified power chord twangs. As the final notes of the song fade out, the sparklingly course riffs of "The Reasons" cut in, Samson's steadily warbling voice ushering in lyrics that state. "I don't know how to sing/I can barely play this thing/but you never seem to mind/when you tell me to f@#k off/when I need somebody to..." As the song progresses, the lyrics slip into emotive stanzas with imaginative lines like "how the past chews on your shoes and these memories lick my ear." In fact, it's deceptively simplistic verses like this that lend The Weakerthans much of their quirky charm. It's so rare that a band these days actually pens lines that are introspective, quotable, and mysterious at the same time.
The title track renders itself as a beguiling shuffle that by my best accounts is an anti-misery song. The musical vibe is conversely melancholic, yet if you listen to the lyrics it's surprisingly upbeat. That the song ends abruptly only adds to its confusing charm. "Psalm For The Elks Lodge Last Call" continues the conflicting elements of sadness and contentment, proving that the two disparate emotions can coexist in seemingly wondrous harmony.
With "Plea From A Cat Named Virtute" the band shifts gears and kicks in jams, per se, with surging guitars, pulsing rhythms and Samson's earnest vocal pleas. Lyrically the song evokes the ruminations of a cat as it travels throughout a house or perhaps Samson's just projecting his persona onto the cat; the interpretation is left open, the words being easily transferable between the two species. The end result is an engaging slice of ragged pop.
Speaking of engaging slices of ragged pop, "Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michel Foucault In Paris, 1961)" is near brilliant for its total aloofness. I mean how can you not be enraptured by a song that breaks out into remedial French halfway through, only to explain the shift in languages as "yes a penguin taught me French back in Antarctica"? These brief, yet frequent surges of whimsy make The Weakerthans a fun, intellectually interactive band; you just never really know what they are trying to say to you, but they say it with such catchy verve that it doesn't matter. Plus it's fun trying to decipher Samson's playful crypticism.
The band delves into a quieter, almost somber mode on "Time's Arrows," the closet thing they have to a ballad. The song unfolds with quasi-acoustic guitar, a loping rhythmic backbeat, and a low-key, shimmering guitar solo that rounds out the song. "(Hospital Vespers)" returns to the bizarre intonations, as the track is completely rendered in back tracked guitar and drums that seem to be vacuumed into the void just as they hit your ears. The lyrics are appropriately phantasmal, as well: "Doctors played your dosage like a card trick. Scrabbled down the hallways yelling "Yahtzee!" I brought books on Hopper, and the Arctic, something called "The Politics of Lonely," a toothbrush and a quick-pick with the plus." Is it a song about being lodged away in an institute? Or perhaps it's a song about a tripped out sleepover at a friend's? Your guess is as good as mine, but it's a simple song that bleeds emotional intensity much in the same way that Peter Gabriel's seminal "Lead A Normal Life" does.
The band unleashes some serious country twang on "A New Name For Everything." A similar vibe is continued on "One Great City!," but with more of a down tempo folk aesthetic about it. The catchiness of Samson's vocals shine through here, causing you to chime in along with him when he sings, "I hate Winnipeg." It's an enigmatic and emblematic ode/dis to the band's hometown, that doesn't forego digs at fellow Winnipeg rockers The Guess Who.
With "Benediction," they keep the low-key country flavor intact and Samson's beatific imagery still reigning supreme: "All our accidents went purposeful and fell, stripped of providence or any way to tell that our intentions were intangible and sweet." The addition of Sarah Harmer's sweet vocals only further adding to the charm of the song. The album's closer, "(Past-Due)" is a quietly melancholic rumination that ends the whole affair on a sorrowfully uplifting note, clanking noize and ethereal keyboards chiming in over vibes and glockenspiel while Samson creakily swoons, "Give what you can: to keep, to comfort this plain fear you can't extinguish or dismiss." A fitting end to a brilliant album.
If any two songs on the album seem out of place, it would be "Uncorrected Proofs" and "The Prescience of Dawn". The former sounds more like an unbridled garage rock workout, devoid of any of the homespun quirkiness that infests the rest of the album. The latter begins with crashing, careening guitars that worm their way in and out of the track in gritty aplomb. It's not that either of these tracks is particularly bad (they're not), it's just that they sound somewhat out of place in context with the rest of the album, musically speaking that is.
The entirety of this album is like a Twin Peaks episode filtered through a sour mash still located in the backwoods of Canada or perhaps it's more akin to a campfire scenario in which one would find Lewis Carroll and Edward Leary trading tales with The Mad Trapper of Rat River while the embers burn briskly as the sun melts into the hazy twilight. Or maybe it's just the result of the wandering imaginations of four guys trapped in the slow moving wilds of Winnipeg, a town they both love and hate. Whatever the case may be, Reconstruction Site will strike a warm, fuzzy chord within even the most jaded of hearts.
Overall Score 9.0