Perhaps the best way to describe the lyrics of the Weakerthans' frontman/guitarist John K. Samson is "relentlessly clever." The former Propaghandi bassist has eschewed the ranting agit-punk of his former band to carve out a more meditative, inward-looking stance that allows him to tell tales that amuse, confuse and elate. Upon hearing his rambling, disjointed, stream-of-consciousness vignettes of life in Winnipeg, listeners might feel as though they've been hit with a particularly absurd psychic connection.
The Weakerthans' latest album, Reconstruction Site, overlays a musical groundwork of quiet but toe-tapping indie rock with touches of alt-country. Somehow it all works without coming across as pretentious -- an impressive feat, considering the obscure, art-school subject matter. For instance, there's philosopher Michel Foucault, a cat named Virtue, a line from a James Agee poem and something Samson calls "Hospital Vespers," which has ingenious and maniacal lines like "The doctors played your dosage like a card trick/Scrabbled down the hallways yelling Yahtzee/I brought books on Hopper and the Arctic/And something called The Politics of Lonely." He's completely unabashed about sharing thoughts that he seemingly scribbled in his notebook while waiting for laundry to dry, or watching old men at the counter of a doughnut shop, or watching motes of dust dance in the sunlight. He's found a way to twist simple observations and memories into universal themes. The result is something at once challenging and simple, profound and mundane.
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But then, Samson has never been accused of playing dumb. In Propaghandi, he raged against the capitalist machine with sharp-witted directness; with the Weakerthans, he's become more elliptical but no less cerebral. And though the band's sound borders on pop from time to time, it's different and weird enough that it won't be mistaken for that of some L.A. clone. Especially if the listener knows that Samson hails from Winnipeg -- near the geographic center of North America, but about as far from the center of everything else as you can get. Samson and the Weakerthans are off-center, too, which makes for a unique and engaging listening experience.