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Album Review
John K. Samson - Provincial Album Cover

John K. Samson - Provincial

Reviewed by
7.0
John K. Samson - Provincial
Release Date: Jan. 24, 2011
Record Label: Epitaph Records
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
Let’s face it: Canadians are just different. They are different. They say “eh” and have provinces instead of states. They measure things in kilometers (this is actually a case of Americans being dumb). Their bacon is different from ours (bacon is great, usually doesn’t matter what kind it is). They probably drink maple syrup all by itself because they like its taste; meanwhile, I treat pancakes as flying saucers and their only purpose is to fly as much syrup as they can into my mouth. Sometimes, Canadians are named Lueda Alia and they have funny accents when they drink Pinot Grigio. They have lots of policemen on horses. In fact, every time I see a policeman on a horse, I am reminded of my only trip north of the border. They have the cool side of Niagara Falls. There was a point to this – oh yeah, provinces! John K. Samson’s new record is called Provincial – an obviously fitting title to a set of a dozen songs that were inspired by his (Canadian) homeprovince of Manitoba.

Now, Samson – the lead singer of legendary indie rock band The Weakerthans, for those of you who have never experienced the grandeur of Left and Leaving – is writing songs about people he knows in Manitoba. I think. I’m not entirely sure, because I can’t call him and ask. Even if I had his phone number, it would be international minutes, so we’d have to use the voice call function on Skype; I don’t have his Skype screen name, but I digress. What I do know is that these people don’t necessary have to be Canadian – they don’t even have to exist, really – because they are just devices that Samson, an exceptional lyricist, to say the least, uses to paint an extremely accurate picture of everyday human life.

I point to “When I Write My Master’s Thesis” first because it is the best track on Provincial. The song begins with an electric guitar and pounding drum, so your worries of this record being a rehashed, boring acoustic album are already gone. This is essentially The Weakerthans sans the rest of the band…to put it simply and lazily. This is a good thing. “Oh, the streets of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas fill with smoke,” begins the song. As you can guess based on that line, it’s a tale of a graduate student, trying to write his master’s thesis but unable to get going. Moreover, it’s a story of unattained potential, the kind of universal truth that can apply to students at any level or graduates of any age. The concept of being unproductive and lazy comes up again in “Stop Error,” to the tune of a Call of Duty 4 reference.

Remember when I said Canadians were different? It was only like three paragraphs ago. Turns out, unlike most of America, they love hockey. Samson likes hockey so much that he dedicated a song to the purpose of getting Reggie Leach inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Sounds like a cute little acoustic ditty, right? Well, it is acoustic, but the name of the song is “www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle/.” I did not make that up – that is the name of the song. And if you go ahead and visit that link, you’ll see an actual petition to get Reggie Leach into the Hall of Fame; not only is it a petition, but it’s the lyrics to the song.

John K. Samson wrote a song where the lyrics are a petition to get a hockey player inducted into the Hall of Fame. That’s Canadian as balls. Or rather, that’s Canadian as puck.

Throughout the course of Provincial, we meet some pretty lowly and pathetic characters. The main subject of “The Last And” is a schoolteacher who has been having an affair with another teacher, but the other teacher is married. “After Christmas holiday, you never asked to drive me home again / Sometimes in the staff room I’d catch your eye with ‘why’d it have to end’ / But I know from how you worry at your wedding band / That I’m just your little ampersand / The last conjunction after every other ‘and.’” It is a sad, sad story of a sad person. But the lyricism there is fascinating; truly a great use of a grammar metaphor.

Even though Samson’s characters are, for the most part, extreme fuck-ups, he does a good job of injecting some morsel of a lesson into each track. Some universal truth, to repeat my phrasing from earlier, that he leaves us after each story. The lyrics take much more of a focus on Provincial than does the musicianship, and this is mostly due to the fact that the instrumentation is relatively low-key. Although Samson is usually never backed by a lone acoustic guitar, the quieter, slower songs outnumber the faster-paced ones – which makes the upbeat “Master’s Thesis” that much better, by the way – and at the end you can’t help but feel as though something is missing. Provincial is a good record, but it’s not good enough as a cohesive unit to warrant any talk of great lasting value. The lyrics are something to hold onto, but they aren’t spectacular enough to scribble in your notebooks for a lifetime. Provincial will be good to you while you enjoy it, but something else will catch your attention all too soon. That said, it’s still a worthy addition to Samson’s catalog.

7/10 - Good
 
Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 22
12:10 AM on 01/26/12
#2
InfiniteArms
Foreign everywhere I've been
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After reading this review, all I want is Pancakes and Bacon
05:33 AM on 01/26/12
#3
lgfuad82
Ender will save us all
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Frank Turner just raved about this album on his blog. Got to check this out for that reason alone.
05:47 AM on 01/26/12
#4
bunneh.
make moves, son
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I've been spinning this for the last two days almost non stop.
06:43 AM on 01/26/12
#5
mycuban
hermits.bandcamp.com
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i loved this, but i love everything this man writes.
07:23 AM on 01/26/12
#6
mikeXXXnj
I'm the (not actually)black jesus.
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should be a 10/10. also. Manitoba is a Province not a town. Winnipeg is the town John is from.
08:07 AM on 01/26/12
#7
Deborah Remus
Winnipegger
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Frank Turner just raved about this album on his blog. Got to check this out for that reason alone.

He does love the Weakerthans. When he was in Winnipeg in October, he gushed about them on stage and then he did a cover of "One Great City!"

But yeah, I can't see this having huge lasting power for me either, but I do enjoy it. Mostly just picking out the stuff that he references, because being a Winnipegger myself I know the street names and all the places he's referencing. Like "Heart of the Continent," I pass that intersection everyday. They recently tore down that Army Surplus store to make another building for the University of Winnipeg, which is right nearby. Obviously anyone can enjoy this record though.
08:21 AM on 01/26/12
#8
Thomas Nassiff
resuscitation of the year
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should be a 10/10. also. Manitoba is a Province not a town. Winnipeg is the town John is from.
WHOOPS
08:22 AM on 01/26/12
#9
Thomas Nassiff
resuscitation of the year
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He does love the Weakerthans. When he was in Winnipeg in October, he gushed about them on stage and then he did a cover of "One Great City!"

But yeah, I can't see this having huge lasting power for me either, but I do enjoy it. Mostly just picking out the stuff that he references, because being a Winnipegger myself I know the street names and all the places he's referencing. Like "Heart of the Continent," I pass that intersection everyday. They recently tore down that Army Surplus store to make another building for the University of Winnipeg, which is right nearby. Obviously anyone can enjoy this record though.
That song is a follow-up or addition to or whatever to "One Great City" amirite?
08:51 AM on 01/26/12
salmarnirecho
several.
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I was lukewarm on this record when I first got it, but the more I listen, the more I love it. John K. Samson is the only person who could write about petitioning to get someone into the hockey hall of fame and make it beautiful and poetic. "Longitudinal Centre", "Letter in Icelandic...", and "Heart of the Continent" slay my soul.
09:53 AM on 01/26/12
texasismyreason
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Took a few spins, but this record will be long lasting in my rotation for years to come. I also completely disagree with your best song on the record...that belongs to "The Last And". Granted it's a re-release, it's amazing.
10:00 AM on 01/26/12
Thomas Nassiff
resuscitation of the year
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Took a few spins, but this record will be long lasting in my rotation for years to come. I also completely disagree with your best song on the record...that belongs to "The Last And". Granted it's a re-release, it's amazing.
My second favorite song.
10:00 AM on 01/26/12
mikeXXXnj
I'm the (not actually)black jesus.
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10:02 AM on 01/26/12
Lueda Alia
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I see my name. And Pinot Grigio. And John's name.

I approve.

But 70%!??!!?!?!??! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!?
11:22 AM on 01/26/12
bhs1158
hold high how faint your reasons
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When comparing this to the Weakerthans' albums, I'm enjoying this more than Reunion Tour but not as much as the others.

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