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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Constantines return

Post-punks reach new level on Kensington Heights

Published: April 18, 2008
Section: Arts, Etc.

The Constantines are one hell of a band. Three albums into their career, they have won over a devoted cult following and critical acclaim.

2001’s self-titled debut was a blazing set of post-punk and Fugazi-inspired songs, both revolutionary and sentimental. Beneath the fire-branding tracks, Constantines contained some small-scale gems. The scary crawl of “Hyacinth Blues” or the sleepy ballad, “St. You,” were signs of what was to come. 2003’s Shine a Light was even better, showcasing a band that had refined its sound and could produce some remarkably memorable songs.

Tournament of Hearts, the band’s 2005 follow-up, found the Constantines lowering some of the fiery fist pumpers and adopting a sound more inspired by Bruce Springsteen. Tournament of Hearts was a brilliant album, and “Soon Enough” was a golden little song that found the Constantines at the height of their game. But carrying the torch of both Fugazi and Springsteen is a tough thing, and Tournament of Hearts contained a couple of songs that fell flat.

Kensington Heights is the first Constantines release on the Arts & Crafts label. The band has moved from Seattle’s SubPop to a label more close to home and released an album titled after the Toronto neighborhood where they recorded it.

And what you’ll find on Kensington Heights is not another transformation as seen in the previous three albums, but a consolidation of all the great things this band can do. The album has intricate, aggressive rockers like “Hard Feelings,” along with moody, Afghan Whigs-style tracks like “Trans Canada.”

However, there are two real standout tracks on this album. The lumbering “Million Star Hotel” is a blast of rock and roll power, containing mammoth riffs played out both subtly and at full bombast. It’s compelling stuff.

The other track is “Time Can Be Overcome.” A slow-burning ballad, the song takes some country, some Crazy Horse, and some Springsteen into a combustible and compelling mix.

Throughout the album, the band plays in lockstep with each other. Bryan Webb is a tremendous singer, lacing his gruff howl with some serious literacy (not to mention pathos). Dallas Wehrle continues to play bass like a madman, adding a sort of chugging drama to tracks like “Trans Canada.” Webb and guitarist Steve Lambke are both excellent musicians, and they lend atmosphere and punch to nearly every song.

As usual the Constantines manage to sound like an incredibly smart bunch of normal guys, which is much of their appeal. Where on past albums weak tracks would pop up here and there, nearly every track on Kensington Heights is excellent, rewarding the listener with the most consistent, dramatic, and excellent album the Constantines have released over their already excellent career.