Review Summary: A thoughtful album.
What makes John K. Samson so fascinating"
In the foreground, he’s always a lyricist, in a way both traditional and backwards. On a personal level, one of my favourite things about him and his very own Reconstruction Site
is that he puts down unspoken thoughts - and that may not be the grandest statement on paper, but it’s really the way
they’re put down that gets me thinking. Death’s inevitability is blurted through the eyes of a child in a family car’s backseat in “Reconstruction Site”, “One Great City!” has Samson singing one thing (I hate Winnipeg
) but thinking the opposite, and “A Plea From A Cat Named Virtue” puts more sophistication in felines than people. Each and everything relies on Samson’s sense of place: he’s not only setting the scene, but placing characters and coupling satirical perspectives, be it a love/hate relationship with his hometown or making mankind as awkward as can-be.
His band’s music, meanwhile, is suitably romantic. Its passion is channelled through a fresh array of genres and such is how “The Reasons” is played through a punk’s amplifier but comes out a folksy dream, and the lyrics make the mood all the merrier – quite simply, “I know you might roll your eyes at this/but I’m so glad that you exist”
. If you trace their album through its alt-country, folk rock, punk and all, you’ll see Samson and co. have a knack for exploration: “(Manifest)” alone is part of a three-song reprise, each with the exact same musical patterns, and yet never more estranged in tone. “(Hospital Vespers)” is sort of the song’s dark and evil clone, drenched in ambience – and “(Past-Due)” should be nothing like it is, waving goodbye to the album in the exact same way it waved hello.
Whether the album is fast or slow - a brimming rocker (“Our Retired Explorer”) or an acoustic (“One Great City”) - every piece that puts it together produces a sound rooted in a community’s tradition (one all the more interesting if, like me, you can’t quite grasp at it) and yet one intriguingly critical of its every pattern. In such, Samson makes his music fascinating in the same way as Sufjan Stevens wants to do with 50 states but does so most valiantly when at home with Michigan
– writing about homeland and hometowns, whether growing up or all grown up. How the Weakerthans’ opus Reconstruction Site
one-ups that formula, however, is by thinking the same thing as anyone anywhere and actually saying it.