Music

John K. Samson: Provincial

Samson’s Provincial is familiar stuff, warm and well-worn. That means it can be alternately immediate or unexciting, sometimes within the same song. But Samson has a knack for linking levity with brevity, and when he succeeds in that it’s always gratifying.


John K. Samson

Provincial

Label: Epitaph
US Release Date: 2012-01-14
UK Release Date: 2012-02-13
Amazon
iTunes

John K. Samson started as the frontman for Propaghandi, playing ultraleft (and vegan!) hardcore punk. After two albums, however, he left to start the Weakerthans, which allowed him to gain some distance from the political and focus more on the personal. The Weakerthans early albums were still punk-inflected, but over time Samson softened the edges. His new solo album, Provincial, started from material he recorded on EPs -- acoustic or even acapella -- and then subsequently re-recorded with a fuller sound. Samson’s solo effort has an especially personal feel to it, focusing on his hometown of Winnepeg, Manitoba. Most of the songs are in some way inspired by highways in Manitoba; Samson also sings a ballad about a hometown hockey star and pens an ode to graduate students. Provincial alternates regularly between acoustic tracks and chugging power pop, and Samson seems to enjoy keeping on the move, jumping from the campy to the amusing to the sentimental, and from pounding to gentle to orchestral. Even when Samson follows a fairly standard template, his sense of humor keeps things cute and cozy.

Samson’s unplugged tracks are tender descriptions of life and love, with light percussion and mournful, unobtrusive acoustic guitar. Sometimes strings and/or horns come into play as well, like on the percussionless “Grace General.” Samson’s voice -- mild and bookish (he mentions higher education and ampersands) -- cuts clearly through the instrumentation to deliver pleasant meandering narratives. “Letter in Icelandic from the Ninette San” takes its time to unfurl, with drums and appealing violins entering part-way through. It’s hard to figure out what the song is about -- sagas and swordplay are mentioned, as are Halloween, x-rays, and hitting on nurses -- but it doesn’t really matter. Samson’s voice is confident, and the song takes on the pace of a waltz. “www.ipetitions.com/petition-/rivertonrifle/,” about a petition to get a native hockey star into the NHL hall of fame, is goofy but sincere. The bemusement and sentiment play well off each other, preventing the song from being too cheesy or a throwaway. The refrain, “we the undersigned, put forth his name,” is awkward but oddly sticky.

It can be jarring the way Samson switches between electric pounding and balladry almost every other song, but if you don’t mind the sudden shift in gears, Samson’s pop goes down easy. The crunching drums and dual guitar interplay of “Cruise Night” are firm even if the lyrics about cars are kind of corny (stories of cars sounded dated even when the Beach Boys put them out in the early 60s). But the familiarity is kind of the point. The power pop on Provincial gets better when Samson adds a dose of humor to the riffing in “When I Write My Master’s Thesis,” the song that would most easily slot into a Weakerthans’ album. He sings, “The doorbell rings, I put my controller down and pick it up, and shoot some things. . . the loneliness increases, she said she’d come back home, when I write my master’s thesis.” It’s an amusing description of procrastination and frustration with subtle hints about the way work can consume your life. Later he sings “No more marking first year papers, no more citing sources. . .” -- it’s an easy anthem for many a struggling student (or teacher).

Samson doesn’t break any new ground on Provincial; it’s familiar stuff, warm and well-worn. That means it can be alternately immediate or unexciting, sometimes within the same song. But Samson has always had a good ear for tune and a knack for linking levity with brevity -- think of the Weakerthans’ “Our Retired Explorer,” from Reconstruction Site -- and when he succeeds in that, as he does on this album, it’s always gratifying.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image