“Literature and music are always connected for me. We’ll always try and do things like have a bookmobile with us on the road. It’s an important part of who the band is,” says John K. Samson, vocalist and guitarist for Canadian indie-rock band The Weakerthans. It is only fitting that their third full-length, Reconstruction Site, should then be shaped from an Elizabethan sonnet, and that some of the songs should bear titles such as “Our Retired Explorer (Dines With Michael Foucault in Paris, 1961).” Literature and poetry are a big part of this album, tangled within the lyrics of every song, especially in the slightly country “New Name for Everything” when Samson sings, “Stand with your hands in your pockets and stare at the smudge on a newspaper sky, and ask it to rain a new name for everything.”
But another aspect of the Weakerthans’ songs can be attributed to something smaller than literature, but something with just as much impact: their hometown of Winnipeg. “You get the feeling the populace always thinks that life is everywhere, that lives here don’t really count. There is great power in the margins, geographically and politically. This is where interesting things come from-just because, I think, they have a chance to exist for more than five minutes without being devoured.” The Weakerthans have a love/hate relationship with Winnipeg, and it’s especially apparent in “One Great City!” when Samson croons quietly, “That hollow hurried sound of feet on polished floor/And in the dollar store the clerk is closing up/And counting loonies/Trying not to say/I hate Winnipeg,” against the gently plucked, unassuming guitars.
Such folky quiet is unexpected from a previously more punk and political band, but it’s not an uncommon sound on Reconstruction Site. Another unusual sound can be heard on the album, as well-the sound of lighthearted fun. “No way,” you say. “The Weakerthans are too bitter for that! They play power-chords! And they’re sad about it!” Not so; in fact, Samson admits, “Laughing is a big part of life. People think I’m this mopey manic-depressive-which, you know, I am-but I also like to laugh about it.” So, from this laughter arose a hooky song (“Plea From a Cat Named Virtue”) narrated by a cat tired by a piece of string and searching through every room and only finding dust.
The same sort of feeling is felt on the album as a whole: that somewhere along the way, the band became tired of searching for stronger melodies, something more, and somehow were left with music just a little bit weaker than (no pun intended) the truly smart and poetic lyrics. Through the 14 tracks, there is the sense that somehow, the band is trying to evolve their sound into something less pop-punk and more folk-rock, but they lose a little of the pop in the process, although they maintain the artsy aesthetic. “That’s the thing that art does. It brings up all these voices you would never otherwise hear,” says Samson. In that case, the voices more than make up for the lack of hook.