The third full length album by The Weakerthans, Reconstruction Site, celebrates its twentieth birthday this year, and it’s just begging for an honest revisit, or, in my case, a first visit. Frankly, I am a bit upset no one has ever recommended The Weakerthans to me. My taste in music is woefully predictable and this band is just the sort of thing I am all about. Hooky pop refrains, happy sounds disguising despair, slightly pretentious literary references, vaguely political overtones: what more could one ask for?
Though released on Epitaph (their first on the label), and often classified as pop punk, there is a whole lot of twee in this album, and it has a seriously classic Y2K indie rock sound. In fact, recently, while playing this in store, someone asked if it was Death Cab For Cutie. Don’t get me wrong, there is a good bit of crunch to many tracks, and I am not at all knocking the pop punk classification, but this album has a much softer touch than, say, releases from Brand New or The Offspring of the same era.
The Weakerthans was formed and fronted by John K. Samson, and if that name sounds familiar to you, congrats, your knowledge of Canadian punk groups is admirable; he was also a founding member of Propaghandi. Here, vocally, Samson is reminiscent of Jeff Magnum from Neutral Milk Hotel and Sean Tollefson from Tullycraft; high praise in my book. Also the superb backing vocals are used exceedingly effectively to really amp up or haunt chosen phrases.
Reconstruction Site has that wonderful quality of revealing more upon each listen, owed partially to the fact that there is a lot going on. The guitar playing is incredible; these dudes seriously make use of a rhythm and lead working together, and I have a great time focusing my ear on one or the other and then back to the sound as a whole. The guitar solo on “Uncorrected Proofs” is short and simple but packs a punch of slightly 80s guitar hero epic-ness. Driving bass and super powerful drums blend excellently throughout, but are showcased very well on “Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris, 1961).”
Speaking of Michel Foucault, this album sets my English-major-dropout heart ablaze. In addition to the Derrida and Martin Amis references, there is some seriously rich imagery painted in the lyrics. The title track, for example, offers a series of supremely detailed vignettes. There is also stellar wordplay at work; shoutout to the use of syllepsis in “A New Name For Everything.” (In case your brain isn’t filled with this brand of useless knowledge, that’s when a verb is applied to two different words, giving the verb two meanings. In the case of this song “save” is pulling double duty, “When you can’t save / cash or conviction.” Y’all wanna diagram some sentences now?)
Truly Reconstruction Site is an utterly well planned and tight album. It may provide a heaping helping of nostalgia for those of us into early aughts indie, but remains vibrant and extremely fun. Believe me, you’ll be singing along to this one in no time. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pour through the entire Weakerthans discography.