Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Constantines - Kensington Heights

When the majority of what you listen to isn't current, it's quite a thrill when not one but two of your very favorite current bands release records in a single year. Though 2008's been somewhat of a musical disappointment for me thus far, I'm proud to declare that my intense love for two bands continues with their newest, successful efforts. One of these is the Black Keys, mentioned several posts back. The other, officially one of the most reliable and consistent groups to hold a large, slimy piece of my heart, is the Constantines, whose fourth record Kensington Heights was released in Canada yesterday and will be released on the 29th in the US. When Dan Auerbach's busy with things that don't involve recording or touring (or, ahem, shaving), Bryan Webb of the Constantines is on standby, waiting to serenade me with an anthem, or several.

Musically, each Constantines record has a different mood to it – their first album was a fun, angular, Dischord-style punk album; Shine a Light was the aggressive record; Tournament of Hearts simply felt good, and three years later, Kensington Heights feels focused and serious. I listen to this record and I see a face in front of me with neither a smile nor a grimace, just perhaps a furrowed brow and lips straightened into a pure line of ambiguity.

More American in sound than any American band, and proudly blue-collar in style, this band represents what a man should be – firm and strong, tough but not intimidating, articulate but unpretentious, stoic in appearance but offering the tiniest hint of sensitivity only when it is most needed. Live, their bond is tight and impenetrable, and they form a wall of raised hands and tall bodies at stage front to maintain the appearance of solidarity and authority at once. On record, they do the same thing, never letting any member stand out more than the others, never letting any member play virtuoso or give too much, never letting anyone get lost in the noise. They are not excessive, they are timeless, and they embody masculinity in the form of a true team.

Getting back to this serious record, then, Kensington Heights is an expression of one of the things the Constantines do best, which is to give power to a ballad and to likewise ease some emotion into their hardest moments of rock, so that there is usually no clear division between hard and soft. But Kensington Heights is somewhat divided into two sections by wallowing ballad “Time Can Be Overcome,” and with the exception of listener-friendly “Brother Run Them Down” and “Credit River,” this is the point at which the album officially becomes top-heavy due to the slowed tempo of its second half – a bold and rare move for a band that usually alternates before ending on a folk ballad.

“Million Star Hotel” is blaring and bluesy, while “Trans Canada” initially takes on a slightly dated and dark tone (think “Dizzy” by the Goo Goo Dolls) until bursting into a fantastic, all-out fighting effort in its second half. “Shower of Stones,” sung by Steve Lambke, is miraculously thrilling and terrifying, its double-sided wall of guitar and continuous roll of tom drum building the musical equivalent of rocks tumbling down a cliff in sheets. And “Our Age,” my favorite here, is to Kensington Heights what “On to You” was to Shine a Light. Its chorus releases a level of passion in you that you didn't know existed, and quite inexplicably at that. And this, perhaps, is the thing the Constantines do best.

Constantines - Our Age
Purchase Kensington Heights (and complete the collection of Constantines records you should already own!)


Anonymous said...

And by 2008 as a musical disappointment, you must be referring to the new Kooks album.

Attack and Release rocks. I'll have to check out this Constantines record.

China said...

No kidding! That new Kooks album bummed me out on first listen...hopefully it gets better after the first. By the way, don't steal music. :)

And yeah, I almost think I like this Cons record more than Tournament of Hearts. So, so lovely.

Rye said...

Excellent review! Hooray for the return of The Constantines. I love the grizzled passion on every one of their releases. I don't know why, but they've always reminded me of Bruce Springsteen filtered through Leatherface or Chamberlain/Split Lip. Great stuff.

Thanks for reviewing it!

China said...

Well, hell, glad you're happier with me than you were a year ago. Thanks!

You're right, though, it's about time they made their comeback. I'd give anything for a new Constantines record every year. Speaking of your latter references, I keep hearing Leatherface's name and have never bothered to have a listen. That shall change.

Rye said...

Yeah..uhmmm...yeah...I was hoping you wouldn't remember....So, sorry for being a total asshole a year ago.

China said...

Don't apologize for being an asshole. I'm always kind of a jerk, particularly to musicians, so it's sort of fair that someone would give me a written lashing.

Funny thing about you, on the other hand - for a while I actually thought you were Greg Ashley posting under a pseudonym, so the next time I saw him play I got really nervous and prayed he didn't know who I was. I still can't listen to Brian Glaze without feeling bad!

All that's to say "don't worry about it."