The Weakerthans

Reconstruction Site

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The title of the Weakerthans' third full-length LP is appropriate, because even if it's not meant to, Reconstruction Site is a great way to describe the most defined document yet of singer, principal songwriter, and guitarist John Samson's trajectory from the punk rock of Propagandhi to the Weakerthans' quietly determined indie pop. While his former group was as concerned with social change as it was with a lockstep drum beat, Samson's recent work has traded power-chord fury for the slow-burning -- but no less hot -- embers of fully realized, deceptively simple pop/rock that brings the songwriter's flair for metaphor to stage front. Like the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle, whose intelligence and wit seep into every corner of his work, the odd, sometimes grandiose song titles of Reconstruction Site are headings for lyrics that revisit pet Samson topics -- the beauty/hell of life in Winnipeg, destructive/confusing personal relationships, and personal ethics as a reaction to the welfare state. The latter, detailed in "Our Retired Explore (Dines With Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961)," is some heady stuff, to be sure. But Samson just as easily personifies a pussycat in "Plea from a Cat Named Virtue," where his tabby takes him to task for "sleeping as much as I do." Though Virtue is afraid of Samson's sister's basset hound, he encourages his owner to stop "repeating the self-defeating lies you've been repeating since the day you brought me home." Musically, Reconstruction Site has more in common with literate indie types like Clem Snide or even the mature, clear-eyed work of Michael Penn. The dissonant chords of punk and hardcore have been replaced by plucked guitars with a country feel ("[Manifest]," and "Time's Arrows"); the harmony-laded "Benediction" even employs a full-on pedal steel guitar. The acoustic "One Great City!" is the album's most lyrically acidic track; an Edward Hopper-esque study of bitter characters in the city where Samson makes his home, for better or worse: it reveals the singer's own love-hate relationship with his country and city.

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