Saturday, April 30, 2005

Deconstructing the Reconstruction - A Short Review and a Tall Order

Casey Dorrell

Weakerthans - Reconstruction Site

Weakerthans - Reconstruction SiteSomehow I missed the fact that Jon Samson, former bassist of the Canadian punk band Propagandhi, was also the Jon Sampson of the Weakerthans. This would go a long way in explaining why the Weakerthans are now signed onto Epitaph (Bad Religion's label which you may know best as the "Punk-o-Rama" label). And it also explains why they're usually stuck in the punk section at your local record store.

The Weakerthans are not punk. Hell, if it weren't for the genre's general vagueness, I'd say they weren't even post-punk - except, maybe, in the literal sense for founder, John Samson. Yeah, will tell you that they're "sonically located in the finest tradition of punk." But beyond being implicitly redundant, this statement is also pretty inaccurate. Rather than punk, Weakerthans might better be described as indie pop with the added pizzaz* of country twang. The lofi, yet upbeat aesthetic will probably appeal to Death Cab fans, while the cerebral lyrics will excite Tragically Hip or Clem Snide followers and Moby liner note critics.

The album Reconstruction Site, which came out in 2003 on Epitaph, isn't really a concept album. It's thematically consistent, though, staying on the general topic of depression, loss, regret - the kind of thing you'd expect from an Eels album. Unlike the Eels, the Weakerthans never fully immerse in the sadness. They're too busy being clever.

Most of the songs here won't actually make you sad. They're sad songs, but not songs to mope to. They're songs that you can listen to while perfectly happy that will make you want to be sad, the way Audrey Hepburn can make smoking look cool even with a comicly sized cig holder. The Weakerthans make depression and neurosis seem clever and desirable. They are in short, the sonic equivalent of a Woody Allen impersonation. Who else would write a song about postmodernist Michel Foucault? Oh. Never was good at the rhetorical.

Foucault holding a Cat
Foucault: "Michel Foucault Heeds not the Pleas of Virtuous Cats"

The three key tracks on the album are"(Manifest)", "(Hospital Vespers)" and "(Past-Due)" which all share the same melody and the same subject: a terminal hospital patient waiting to die. Stand out tracks are the great "One Great City," a lament-cum-cheer for Canadian city Winnipeg with clever narrative-style lyrics and "Plea from a Cat named virtue" about which you only need to know that it's sung from the perspective of a depressed person's cat (ostensibly named Virtue).

All the tracks feature a pseudo alt-country twang set to lofi indie pop melodies. The generally laid-back paced songs are matched by the slightly nasal and sleepy singing of Samson. This is a clever, fun album. It's not brilliant, it's not essential, but if you've got a bit of extra cash you could do far worse. Rating: Buy this now (My tall-order for you). So we haven't made a rating system yet but we have eight copies of this album where I work and none have been bought in well over a month (which is what prompted the review).

Rating: B+

For Fans of: Clem Snide, Decemberists

Other Albums by the Weakerthans:
The Weakerthans - Fallow Fallow (99) The Weakerthans - Left & Leaving Left & Leaving (00) The Weakerthans - Watermark Watermark (02)

The Weakerthans members on parkbench with large heads
We're not . . . too cerebral are we?

Weakerthans (All from Reconstruction Site)
Plea From a Cat Named Virtue
Hospital Vespers
Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Foucault) Live in Munich
The Reasons [steam-only video]
Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Foucault) [stream-only video]
Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call [stream-only video]
Full Acoustic Live Set of Reconstruction Songs [flash, follow the links]
Want to sing along? Get a Karaoke track of Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Foucault)
Two Streaming concert outtakes from Reconstruction period (about 12 tracks) on JustConcerts: Jon Sampson live on December 5 2002, Weakerthans live on November 6 2003.

Propagandhi - Back to the Motor League
Clem Snide - Live on Conan O'Brien (Video)
The Professors - Foucault Funk

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The Decemberists were just in Vancouver on sunday but i missed them - regrettably.


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