The Weakerthans – Table of Contents

All thanks for this one due to a blog named “Besides” (get it?) for putting this together. For, you see, this isn’t a real B-sides collection! Some audacious bloggeur (or perhaps bloggeuse) made it! And probably put a lot of effort into it, so much appreciated, blog whose comments page I’m not commenting on!

Oddly, and I say “oddly” because this is an entire car-ear we’re talking about here, The Weakerthans have never, not once, released an original song other than on their albums. Weird, huh? I know! So what’s there to find on such a collection? Well:

a) There are two covers – A super catchy version of Phil Ochs’ “Ringing Of Revolution” that totally licks ass, and a still-really-good cover of The Rheostatics’ “Bad Time to be Poor.” Haha, they have ideals! Both are performed in fairly classic indie rock fashion and highly recommended.

b) Two songs by John K. Samson duetting with Christine Somethingorother that aren’t technically Weakerthans songs. “Taps Reversed” is a fairly nice piano ballad, and “Good Salvage” is completely forgettable indie-country.

c) New versions of their own songs that vary a satisfying amount from the familiar versions. “My Favourite Power Chords” is “My Favourite Chords” as a thirty second long pogo speed punk rocker! “Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist” as a Barenaked Ladies-style country background toe-tapper! “Past Due” with soothing guitars! “Everything Must Go” with drums at the beginning (similar to but better than the album version)! “Utilities” in a nearly identical version, and it wasn’t too good to begin with! “Got more faults than the state of California” is an awful line, guys!

d) The B-Sides of “Watermark,” namely live, acoustic versions of “Illustrated Bible Stories for Children” and “The Last Last One” with different instruments. These aren’t the best album tracks ever, but the former sounds neat with soft drums and accordion (always a good idea), while the latter sounds pretty good piano-led instead of guitar-led. Samson’s voice sounds hilariously gay when he says “Keith McLeod everyone!” though! You just gotta hear it!

e) A six-track CBC session of just Johnny Sam and his trusty electric guitar that’s actually really pretty and personal-sounding. Why, there’s everything here, from songs you just knew would sound good unadorned (“Left and Leaving,” “Reconstruction Site,” “One Great City!”) to songs that work surprisingly well (“Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call,” “The Reasons”) to songs that weren’t good to begin with (“Utilities” – stop it!).  “One Great City!” in particular has completely replaced the album version as the definitive go-to “One Great City!” experience.

I’m going to give it a higher grade than it deserves, most likely, but I’m unfair like that. For a collection of songs with no potential for great new finds, it really holds its own.

In conclusion,

John K. Samson got out of bed
Started a band called The Weakerthans
Wrote some songs down from his head
And went right back to bed

8/10 

Advertisements

The Weakerthans – Reunion Tour

Weaker than my ASS is more like it.

Wait wait, that wasn’t it.

ReONION Tour is more like it!

And now that I have your undividend attention: I’m not feeling well, so this review will be even less interesting than most – isn’t that great?

Basically, there’s a lot more experimentation and quite a bit more production here – there’s very little of the all-conventional goings-on. That is all good, but there’s also a lot more lyrical experimentation, especially in terms of subjects of songs, and that’s a bad thing, because songs where I can picture myself as the protagonist in some form or other are my musical pornography. Or at least in the protagonist’s shoes…you know, personalized songs about hating Winnipeg good, obviously lyrical larks about medical oddities not so good. There’s a lot more talking about the exceptional people, which isn’t what I’ve turned to the Weakerthans for. So the mean is about the same, but the range is far lower. Less filler but less fantasticality. Here are a few notes about each song, because I’m boring:

“Civil Twilight” – Bread and butter mid-tempo rocker about a city bus driver. Wavering background guitar never quite clicks. A lot of alliteration, which is a bit of a drag considering their usual lyrical acumen. A line about thinking about the names of “provinces and hollywood actors.” Methinks he’d run about provinces about thirty seconds into each day!

“Hymn of the Medical Oddity” – Soothing musically, but unspectacular. song topic is rather blah – I’ll take “When I Was A Baby” thanks.

“Relative Surplus Value” – Serious-faced fast-paced, drums first rocker about a stockbroker getting canned. Sorry, but again, poor choice of topic – reminds me of Ben Folds taking himself too seriously.

“Tournament of Hearts” – That’s the best name for a sports event ever (the women’s curling championship). Another fairly normal rocker akin to track one, but with more production frills than on previous albums. Nice, but strives too hard to fit in 80000 curling references per verse.

“Virtue the Cat Explains Her Departure” – The whole “song from the perspective of a cat” thing is a lot less interesting the second time around, especially with the overabundance of cat-thing references and the newfound balladry, but that climax is genuinely touching. Listen to it twice and you’ll forget about it forever. Three times and it’ll get stuck in your head forever.

“Elegy for Gump Worsley” – Dumb pretentious seven (or so) repeating acoustic guitar notes combined with ultra-serious sounding spoken word about hockey. Comes off as too self-consciously Canadian, and even though it is actually about a dead person, the no-smiling intonation of lines like “List of favourite items through by New York Rangers fans: Soup cans. Persimmon. A mop handle.” Ruins everything good in the world.

“Sun in an Empty Room” – The best moving song ever and the album’s standout.

“Night Windows” – Almost as good, any song about walking at night works for me, but it all never comes together due to the ugliness of the phrase “night windows.” Sounds unmusical, and horribly.

The last three songs – One short acoustic song about a bigfoot catcher that’s nice but unmemorable, one short marching band-ish song about a band on reunion tour (a-HA!) that’s nice but unmemorable, and one everyday instruments song about everyday objects that’s nice but unmemorable.

GREAT WRITING, HUH. Nice album, but I doubt I’ll ever have the urge to listen to anything but two, maybe three songs off of it ever again. The 7 is a low one.

7/10

The Weakerthans – Reconstruction Site

Here’s another fun fact: a great percentage of people, once in the company of any in-group they can desperately feel a part of, will reveal that they believe in stupid, stupid conspiracy theories. Here are just a few I heard just today: Canada is a communist country, worse than China, and they have cameras in your house watching you. The government also keeps track of where you are at all times through your cell phone. “Someone” is running every political party and creating an illusion of choice. Insurance companies make people sick on purpose. Here are a few I hear at work all the time: the world really is ending soon. There’s a cabal of “evil” people ruining the lives of “good” people. And astrology; so much astrology. These are not uneducated people or teenagers saying these things either! Meanwhile you can’t buy beer at the Beer Store in Toronto after fucking seven O’clock on a Sunday. Teeriffic.

Here’s another Weakandthins album! It follows the other two, only now (if you remember my past little paragraph) they’re smarmy English graduate students, being all pretentious and way more alt-country. Seriously, there’s about two songs on here that don’t have that Cuff the Duke feel. Do you know Cuff? I do, they’re a much less known band than the ‘Thans and I shouldn’t be comparing them as such but there I went. Not to worry, though, I know a few English graduate students, and most of them are pretty sharp – that’s how they got into grad school! But yes, pretentious! Three of the songs have their names in parentheses, and they share the same melody, and one of them’s all backwardsy! Yeah, backwards cymbals make everything deep, man. There’s a song that name drops Foucault and Derrida (and some others) and features (terrible) French (because they don’t actually say “comme ci comma ca” EVER). Even the very album title seems like a play on deconstruction!

Of course, the pretension is pretty veneereal. These are your comfy Weak’s, like a comfy old bag of socks. True to form, there’s some classy, literate, 4/4-timin’ iambic pentameter singin’, simplistic power chord playin’ boys you’ve always known. Of course, there are great lyrics in about half the songs here. Why, one of them’s a chide from an exasperated cat (!) that both really gets into animal character and features a memorable line advising the song’s target to invite friends over and “talk about the weather or / How the weather used to be.” If you’ve known people it’s downright profound is what it is. It helps that they have some riffing going on during the verses (at least the second one) to spiff up they’re omnipresent chugga-chugga moderate rock sound. They totally do this during “Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call” too! And love man, the resident kinda-emo song, “The Reasons” (later covered so profoundly by Hoobastank) is downright fucking adorable! The chorus goes “I know / You might roll your eyes at this / But I’m so / Glad that you exist”! Awww! And “Time’s Arrow,” why, that song reminds me of thinking about swinging about (parse it) a grassy country lawn on a hot summer’s day, even though that never technically happened!

These guys really are my favourite kinda emo kinda country childhood reminiscing kinda indie rock group around, and it sure helps that they’re fairly obviously Canadian. But ah, like that bag of socks, by the time you get to the bottom they’re all mildewy and yuck. 5 of last 6 songs are like a guy you see and recognizes you at a party, and he’s like “Myles! Hey Myles!” and you squint in attempted recognition, and you maybe, maybe remember him a little? So you haltingly say hello, and he notices your condition but tries to plow through it with “we went to high school together!” And you try your darnedest, but it just doesn’t help; you still don’t really remember him. I mean, one’s really country, right? One sounds a little like Pearl Jam filler, or something? One’s kinda like the first song, I think?

The resident song about how much they hate Winnipeg (I LOVE how there’s one of these per album) is an acoustic twanger this time. Unfortunately, a version I have on my computer that’s not acoustic is WAY better and uses a far better vocal take, so that’s sad, but this may be the best city-hate song I’ve ever heard (it tops Robbie Fulks’ “Fuck This Town”). The song’s called “One Great City!” but the entirety of the chorus goes “I hate Winnipeg.” I’d quote the whole lyrics to do it justice, but I’m lazy, so let me just say that it’s the most perfect picture of tired commuters, seemingly endless winter, and urban decay. “Late afternoon, another day is nearly done / A darker grey is breaking through a lighter one” and on it goes, including about five references you have to be Canadian (or capable of using Wikipedia) to understand. It’s rare (for me) to find songs where the song’s message overcomes the memories I have associated with it (namely, staring out a townhouse window in Guelph in February and later singing with a long lost roommate). Of course, all my gushing doesn’t change that what I thought was the song for about eight years isn’t on the album, and half the songs that are on the album are like the 2004 Blue Jays’ season – all I can remember about them is that there’s nothing much to remember about them. But oh, those other seven (ish) songs!

7/10

The Weakerthans – Left and Leaving

Nothing except a little movement towards the mainstream, a new batch of songs, and some more time to gel. They still sound All-Canadian and 4/4 timey, and even the songs that aren’t in 4/4 time sure sound like they are – they just have that “standard rock” feel to them. Which has its pros and cons – mainly that it means that they fly entirely based on their lyrics and themes, and have relatively little happening musically save the occasional catchy guitar lick-a-stick.

Despite their being older than most new bands – because they were in other bands first – the first album sounded like a high-school album, and this one sounds like more of a young collegian album. More self-conscious. More openly clever as well, and with a little less punky soundsmanship. The self-awareness robs them of a bit of their all-important pathos, and it’s rather sad. So while it’s probably more technically accomplished than the previous one…I’m not quite as crazy about it. And god damnit, it’s such a singles album! I love the faster-paced “Aside” and “Watermark,” which feature plenty of winning couplets (“We’re talented and bright / We’re lonely and uptight” from the latter, for instance), and once when I saw them in concert in Guelph one time, after the line “Rely a bit too heavily on alcohol and irony” from “Aside” my friend nudged me in the ribs and said “that’s you!” And that was cool. And, of course, the kinda emo, slowish, folkish, countryish title track about a lover leaving (and oneself not leaving) Winnipeg is fantastic and heartbreaking, just like the last album’s slowish, folkish, countryish title track about leaving or not leaving Winnipeg! Aw, man, dig these words: “My city is still breathing / But barely, it’s true / Through buildings gone missing like teeth / The sidewalks are watching me think about you / Sparkled with broken glass / I’m back with scars to show / Back with the streets I know will never take me anywhere but here.” Whee! I saw my girlfriend cry to those words just last week! Buildings gone missing like teeth? EEEEE!

And then the rest of the album is kinda eh. The first song is another slow brushy one that sounds decently resigned (yes, they hit the same emotions over and over from album to album), and “Pamphleteer” is, in a neat change of pace, soaring musically but disappointing lyrically, and THAT’S IT. “Without Mythologies” is a terrible “experimental” “dark” song that tries to tap the lame Incubus-ish “Indian” sound and ends up being dopey and mercifully forgetful, and after track 7 (the awesome title track) there’s not much that goes on, just a mediocre slow rocker, the album’s least successful fast-paced song, and the album’s two least successful slow songs – notice! “Slips and Tangles” doesn’t get to be dramatic just because it has piano and strings! They’re all not bad, just rather forgetful and on the same themes of rah-rahing outcasts and crises and playing in construction sites as adults. And I love those things, but they do the same things way better just songs earlier!

So we’ve got three great songs, two pretty good songs, one bad songs, and five forgetful ones. But those three great songs. Ah, how they desire to be put on mixtapes labeled “Me – 2003-2007” and sent to (hopefully hot) friends in faraway places.

6/10

The Weakerthans – Fallow

Of all the CDs I’ve listened to, this one definitely counts as one of them. And it’s a good thing, two, because The Limperdicks are one of the most semenal Canadian bands around! And how can you dislike a band with such a cleverly self-deprecating name?

But really, kids, in my mind these guys will always be a much cooler, less accessible version of that seminal Canadian band The Tragically Hip, but with punk and folk and country replacing blues as major influences. See, already more interesting, right? They both have that “bar band” sound, at least by virtue of being mid-tempo and standard in makeup and instrumentation (straight-up vocals guitar drum and bass, all tuned to maximize listenability). They make a lot of Canadian references too, but with these guys, nearly all of it comes back to hating their home city, Winnipeg, which is fucking adorable.

The lead singer came from an actual punk band, Propagandhi, but he obvs took like thirty hits of erudition and other gay shit, because this album is far more punk in spirit than in music. In fact, musically The Weaks aren’t actually all that interesting – there’s three or four different songs  – the chugga-chugga-chugga midtempo one, the hookless punky one, the folky acoustic pickin’ one and the countryish sad slide guitary one, but the lyrics, oh, doctor! The lyrics are the show here. The punk spirit is alive, in that all the glory goes to sad people regretting their lives and fighting the power (“Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist” is the clearest example but it’s all over the record). But they’re doing so in a rather resigned, late 20s-at-least sort of way that passes the point of where staying young at heart gets pathetic into the part where staying young at heart becomes admirable. And the cadence! Cadence more or less drives this whole album – usually in iambic pentameter, every song here relies primarily on euphonic wordifying to drive the messages (breakups are sad, sprawl is bad fighting government is good but sad, etc) into your brainnodes. But fuck it, I fucking love those message. Sprawl really IS bad, working really IS depressing, and breakups really IS sad, and we shouldn’t be afraid to sing about any of that; we should embrace it as best as we can. I feel like The Weakythings share my life views, and that is what fundamentally separates them from The Hip or nearly every other band out there. They’re slightly more mature people like us – born to have existential crises as much as Bruce was born for running.

A few songs stand out positively – breakup song “None of the Above,” which sketches its breakup in a hopeless Winnipeg suburb’s coffee shop (“under sputtering fluorescence / After refills are refilled / As brand new strip mall chews on farmland / We fish for someone to blame” – GAHHHH) and matches it with a slide guitar and one of the few memorable musical moments on the album, unconventional “Leash,” which starts with “Have one of those days where you want to try heroin” and lets the guitar play a note and let it reverb through the bar, not unlike the drums in The Beatles’ “I Dig A Pony,” and “Fallow,” a word not mentioned that references leaving a field unfarmed for a year to enjoin the soil, horribly sadly about staying in Winnipeg one more year. It’s fucking wonderfully sad and resigned, despite being basically the same (fantasmic) song as “None of the Above” musically. Get a fuck of these lyrics! “Six feet off the highway / Our bare legs stung with wheat / We’ll dig a hole and bury / All we could not defeat / And say that we’ll stay for one more year” – it literally made my girlfriend cry last night. Of course, it could have been that we were talking about friends of ours breaking up and my beating her for no reason other than emotional blackmail, but shit, bitches gotta

Way better lyrically than m
usically, but it’s always a good listen, and good god “None of the Above” and “Fallow” are sad. I totally recommend engetifying this shit, even if it receives probably the first of many 7s The BetterOffThings get.

Remember I mentioned cadence? The line “I’ll say something thoughtful soon.” Not the best on the album, but I’m not listening to it right now. Roll it around in your mouth a bit. A bit beyond standard songwriter’s alliteration – it’s consonance and assonance and dissonance. Ah, that’s half the reason I love these guys.

8/10