Review Summary: So Canadian it hurts, eh?
There’s something magical about the ability of music to transport you to a completely different place in an instant. Sometimes, we obsess over an album, song, or artist so extensively that years down the road when we hear it again, we can’t help but experience vivid flashbacks of where we were or what our lives were all about when we first fell in love with it. John K. Samson’s newest solo album Provincial
accomplishes this effect in a different way. I’m from Canada, and as of this writing I am in the middle of a year-long stint of backpacking across Africa, and I’ve been away from home for nearly five months. I know that when I listen to the album years from now, I will be instantly taken back to walking along the beaches of Cape Town, as it is the only thing I have listened to (or felt like listening to) for the past week. However, what Provincial
is currently doing for me is reminding me of home.
You see, Provincial
is so Canadian it hurts, and I mean this in the best possible way. Most of you will know John K. Samson as the frontman of Canadian indie-rock giants The Weakerthans
, or possibly as a former member of Winnipeg-based punk group Propagandhi
. Both these groups have a tendency to address Canadian issues with their lyrics, or else make jokes that only someone from Canada could truly understand. Provincial
carries on this lyrical trend and, as ever, it works incredibly well. The first and second to last tracks on the album are named after a Canadian highway, and there is a song in which Samson suggests a certain Manitoba born hockey player as a member of the hockey hall-of-fame, and the title is the actual URL to a petition that aims to make it so, something that only a Canadian would ever seriously consider putting on an album. Furthermore, perhaps appealing more specifically to people from Manitoba, there is a song about the longitudinal centre of the nation, which is in Manitoba, called, what else, ‘Longitudinal Centre.’
But of course, alluding to my home country is not enough to make it a ‘good’ album. All of this name-dropping is all well and good, but without great music, song-writing, and lyricism, none of it matters. Luckily for us, his listeners, John K. Samson displays the same tight compositional ability that has gained him fans with his various musical endeavours in the past. Musically, the album is a more or less straight-forward indie/folk affair in the same vain as most of The Weakerthans’ material. What makes this album shine, as with most of Samson’s body of work, is the brilliantly simple lyricism. Some lyricists are highly renowned because of their deep metaphorical passages or incredible insight, and while Samson definitely displays such insight at times, what stands out about his lyrics is that he has a knack for describing mundane, every day events in a catchy and somehow meaningful way. The best example of this on Provincial
is probably on standout track ‘When I Write My Master’s Thesis’ which begins: “Oh the streets of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas fill with smoke, my doorbell rings. I put my controller down then pick it up, shoot some things
.” To those that haven’t heard the song yet, this may look like a ridiculous lyric, and it kind of is. But Samson’s genius lies in the way that he is able to make this lyric work
, like those are the only words that could ever go with the music it’s set in front of. Moments like this are sprinkled everywhere throughout the brisk 37-minute runtime of the album, and they’ll make you grin every time.
is a simple album. The music is simple, the song-writing is simple, and the lyrics focus on simple, everyday things. But while this would generally be seen as a negative for most albums, John Samson specializes in making the simple seem extraordinary. His music is best enjoyed when close attention is paid to his lyrics, as they are almost always exceptionally witty or else relatable in some odd way. Some of the charm of Provincial
definitely lies in its distinct Canadian-ness. That is not to say that only Canadians will enjoy it, but it certainly helps in relating to some of the lyrical content. Still, this album is classic Samson, and anyone with an ear for folky indie-rock or clever lyricism will find something to enjoy.
So grab a poutine, turn on the hockey game, and throw on Provincial
. If you don’t enjoy what you hear, I’ll have to politely suggest that you’re oot of your mind, eh?