Music News

Sheer Samson

Call him the John Darnielle of the North. Like the Mountain Goats' songsmith, John Samson of Winnipeg, Canada, has a high, reedy voice, modestly folk-inflected sound, and a keen lyrical wit.

Samson played in the early '90s with political punkers Propagandhi. In '97, tired of catering to testosterone-fueled mosh pits, he quit music to help start a publishing house (Arbeiter Ring). He found himself back in a band by accident when he put together what he thought was a solo project that resulted in a band effort, The Weakerthans' debut, Fallow.

The band's latest album, Reunion Tour, is another fine set of vignettes, including an exploited Bigfoot witness longing for validation and a hockey wash-out who was unafraid of the puck by claiming "my face was my mask."

"I figured out [the album] was a series of songs about reunions missed, thwarted, and longed for," Samson says. "I started writing songs about people and those moments when they realize they need to make a change or come to the realization that they can change."

The album's highlighted by the lively rock rumble of "Relative Surplus Value," in which a failed dot-com would-be millionaire calls from the airport looking to secure a ride home, from anyone. With the ringing guitars and bittersweet sentiment, it's practically a Fountains of Wayne tune.

"Marx came up with that phrase to describe the money that's extracted through technological advances by capitalism, so it was really just waiting for the dot-com bust," Samson jokes. "I'm interested in specialized languages in general, and the two big languages that I've used have been Marxism and Christianity. They're both kind of messianic redemptive languages, [but] I wouldn't call myself a Christian or a Marxist."

Besides his second elegy (to go with a psalm and vespers), the boyhood Mennonite choir singer also penned a sequel to his popular "Plea from a Cat Called Virtute," from 2003's Reconstruction Site. The cat, who in the first song threatens to bite her owner's "tinny blood" if he doesn't "stop the self-defeating lies you've been repeating since the day you brought me home," returns to explain her departure. "I would wait for you to arrive with kibble and a box full of beer," she recalls, sounding like a woman explaining the ineffable vacancy where her heart used to be. "I can't remember the sound you found for me."

Perhaps even more tuneful than Reconstruction Site, Reunion Tour continues to mine Samson's love of losers pursuing some redemption, sketched with a deft, effortless touch.

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Chris Parker
Contact: Chris Parker