Album Reviews

Review: The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site

Contrary to popular belief, we are actually in abundance of talented song craftsmen. From the low ranged pastures of those distinctly less cerebral landscapes to our deepest and most complicated entangling, men and women are at this very moment creating instrumental structures that will likely move us, shake us, appease us and upset us. We have those who at their most inspired, utilize the most unique of object collections – bending their resonance into compositions that are not only individually fascinating; but are capable of evoking the deepest of thoughts in comprehending these atypical results. They are the troubadours of musical creativity; musicians who stray away from textbook arrangements and recognized sounds and in the end, fracture previous conceptions of genres and styles. Then there are those who keep within our commercial boundaries, crafting accessible pop numbers that become the accompaniment of moving pictures and that whistling walk down the street. While certainly not overly creative, they too possess the faculty to influence and sway.

The Weakerthans fall into the latter category in most points. Their collective sound tends to range between alternative-country-pop and prairie rock, never being too challenging but grasping at our most organic of inclinations. It is however, not the attribute in which they excel in; no, that one glaring asset lies in their lyrical virtuoso John K Samson; their champion of wandering spontaneous prose. It would be of no surprise if in some way, the nomadic undercurrent that wavers through Reconstruction Site was derived on some cross country voyage with the Neal Cassadys of the world, toting Ginsberg and Thomas Wolfe. If the vast endless roads and grasslands could be translated into today’s musical offerings, The Weakerthans would be the direct result. It has always been that way, at least for Samson. During his Propaghandhi days, while Chris Hannah spoke of McCarthyism, dead fascists and homosexuality, Samson penned tunes about small town alienation and regrets; and his keen observational eye has not lost a step since staving off the staunch political jibe. And his musical sense, while a small step behind, is remarkably adaptive to his drifting wisdom.

It is fitting in a way that while his words invent so intricately; “I’m afloat / A float in a summer parade / up the street in a town that you were born in / With a girl at the top wearing tulle / and a Miss Somewhere sash / waving like a queen”, the accompanying sound naturally eases itself into the lyrical meditation. In the track “Reconstruction Site”, the gentle guitar pulling and the cozy bass line plots the travelogue while those reflective lines do most of the driving. It is this sort of hand-in-hand partnership that best connects the listener to the music in its entirety; one that prevents the sort of stagnation that comes with sounds of flurrying experimental direction. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy to point out that there has been some level of creative flat lining since their last disc, Left and leaving(2000). Their previous effort snaked so charmingly across the folk/rock/country vista, stopping at certain intervals to bask in the glow of loungesque garage sale wonderment (“Everything Must Go!”), modest spoken word beating (“Without Mythologies”) and a sense of exploration (musically) that stretched from the tundra to the swampy marsh lands.

Reconstruction Site is far less adventurous in regards to its instrumental assembly; credit the higher production value if you will, but nevertheless, the seemingly level plain in which they skate on presents the text in a greater connecting tone – a chime those searching for musical refinement will undoubtedly hear. From the unfussy rock of “The Reasons” to the uber bouncy “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucalt in Paris, 1961)”, anyone seeking connectivity within the music will grasp at its accessible foundation and truly itinerant sense.

In the instances where they do become musically restive, they do so with much less vigor than previous outings. “One Great City!” is an endearing folky stab at the city of Winnipeg, with delicate strings-a-twinkling, it is about as musically artful as this album gets. However, it does bear the comic verse “The crowded riders’ restlessness enunciates that the Guess Who suck / the Jets were lousy anyway / The same route every day / And in the turning lane, someone’s stalled again”.

Reconstruction Site isn’t the mark of artful splendor, but it does continue the Weakerthans’ quest to forever travel the meandering conduits of personal freedom and observational exploration. If anyone were ever to forward the cause for written spontaneity and a freshness for inspirational description, John K Samson would be our lonesome scribe. And for those seeking a companion for their favorite “road” book, the music of The Weakerthans is that cross-country trip you yearn to take over and over again – a bona fide sound for that timeless vision. (Epitaph)

Album Reviews

Review: The Jealous Sound – Kill Them With Kindness

Blair Shehan is bound by his talents. He is the memoirist; the able writer who pens our most indelible of emotions, summoning the human commonalities that bide between each and every one of us. He writes of our distances (“Did you celebrate without me? / Did you tell them all about me? / did you sell me out / if you ever had a doubt”) and our insecurities (“I will be anxious arms/ beside myself and there is no one else / won’t you be my answer then”), and he writes of all those moments that leave us speechless and cold. He is the arrant negotiator, calmly blurring the lines between the lush manifestations and the oft sanguine sluicing of pleasant rock formulae – crafting compositions that yield their own significance; a bold statement between perfectly moving and sincere. Shehan is our honesty and the Jealous Sound is the musical vernacular in which these distances are bridged.

Believe what you will, press lines and quips of praise are but words we form in an attempt to grasp emanating sounds. The very words you are reading are but some, an effort to fully comprehend how in years passing, so little have awaken the deepest warmth of sadness and growth. A time in which we often seek clarity and understanding, but receive it far too late. Gone are those opportunities, the fleeting instances we failed to grab and the comfort we missed to embrace. And these words that so solemnly echo, the gentle shoestring tugging of the heart, all but remind us, before it lets us rest our weary heads on its waiting shoulder.

“I force your hand to write / List what you left behind / Did I force your hand to move like mine”, Shehan writes in “The Gift Horse”, his voice is the awkward reassurance, layered above the pristine rock riffs that ache that infectious stillness. An apparent calm that is broken by the upbeat nature of the album’s more effervescent instances; most notably “Naïve”, a bitter tongued diatribe that boasts lyrical poignancy as well as musical grace, and in the ambitious “Anxious Arms” (that was previously seen on their debut EP but receives a conscious reworking) – a grand gesture of searing emotion and well placated instrumental balance; sharing periods of sullenness and rejuvenation.

There is a distinct separation between the Jealous Sound, or more accurately, Shehan himself, and artists who desire the attention of both our ears and hearts. The somnambulistic veil in which he coats each song is an added texture; one we feel more than we hear – interwoven is this luster, into the uncomplicated tangling of instruments and those choice connections made with the seemingly tortured poetic poise. Whether it be the observations of others, “You’re poised and you’re perfect / face of the fallen destroyed / Call out and curse it and everything else you avoid / Your comets burn brighter but you still feel the sting / They lift up their lighters and sing so sweetly” or our own inner struggles, “I’m already gone / Don’t say a word / I can’t hear you / Don’t hold me close / I can’t feel you”, the words that escape are ones we relate to; shaped as if they are those released from our own breath.

It is in that same breath that we feel at ease, the burden that some artists cast upon themselves can be immense; courted by lavish experimental settings and desires to outdo, their most human of features become indistinguishable. And it is this very human essence that shines throughout Kill Them With Kindness; seemingly unbothered by delusions and loftiness, it shimmers undaunted, like the softness of falling snow, the affection of the fireplace and the kindness of the reaching hand. This gleam captured in true form during “Guard it Closely”; an earnest winter escapade buoyed by the slow magnetic opening, champagne riffs and lounging bassline, its simple candor; lit once again in the much grandeur, gentler “Recovery Room” – best left at beautiful.

For those times we are left in shadows, searching for a sound or voice of reason, we turn to our most personal of places. We look for those open arms where we can rest our weary core, where we can sit and hear and wait for the profound, where we can scream in relief “It feels so good to feel”. And like the moments spent in Shehan’s audience, the understanding is clear, and the only constraints lie in whether or not we’ve found them in time. (Better Looking)