Albums Decade AquariumDrunkard

What is it that makes us want to deconstruct art by units of time? Lists. We love making them. We love arguing over them. And here, on the verge of a new decade, we’re in a position to do the same again. What were the best albums of the past ten years?

Here at AD, we started talking it through and decided we weren’t going to add to the cacophony of lists being put out by various music pubs. There are enough of those. Rather, we elected to let our four main writers have a chance to write about any and all of the albums they felt shaped the last decade.

From the beginning of October through the end of December, Monday through Thursday, AD will feature a post, or posts, from a particular writer detailing their favorite albums of the decade. On a given week there might be one album a writer talks about, there might be six, but they’ll get a chance to have their say on everything that comes to mind. Our hope for you, the reader, is that you’ll jump in with your comments on the album selections – tell us why you agree or disagree – and also be exposed to some albums that you may have missed over the last ten years. Now, as the decade starts to wind down, let’s celebrate.

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constantines“This song is about the death of Danny Rapp/and that great gospel jest called rock ‘n’ roll”.  Thus began Constantines’ first release—free of bullshit, full of energy.  Two years later, when the Guelph, Ontario, group burst into our national waters with 2003’s Shine a Light, the buzzline went something like this: Canadian Fugazi fronted by a dude who sounds a lot like Bruce Springsteen.  As any regular AD reader might guess, I was a fish in a very small barrel.  Though young and pissed, harsh and static like a great white winter, Shine a Light—and particularly its standout title track—is a record steeped in soul.  “Don’t talk to me about simple things,” Bryan Webb croaks.  “There is no such thing.”  When things get heavy here, they get heavy with a purpose.

But with 2005’s Tournament of Hearts, Constantines found themselves in something of a musical lower-middle class, releasing critical gems on Sub Pop and opening for Pearl Jam but never really gaining the kind of grassroots success in the States that seemed to suit them.  Lest you scoff, those Springsteen comparisons are apt, though not necessarily because of Webb’s sweating vocal cords.  Tournament of Hearts is the kind of everyday-soul record on which Bruce first made his name, anthems of hope set over machine-thrum rhythms.  And, sure, there’ve been a million bands that have sought for that same blue-collar sound, but no one else seems to understand the necessity—the good struggle—of work the way Constantines do.  Whether that work comes from a job, a relationship, or a guitar doesn’t seem to matter; something has to be done.

In that way, Tournament of Hearts marks the moment we all became blue-collar.  Beginning with the feedback swirl of “Draw Us Lines” and concluding with “Windy Road”s lullaby, the record batters out a vision of hope in struggle specific enough to matter and vague enough to matter to a lot of people.  It’s a bold statement for rock ‘n’ roll music to make; it’s the same statement Springsteen himself made with Born in the USA and Nebraska, when he dared to acknowledge that not all problems can be solved by getting your motor running and heading on the highway.  And while Bruce was shocked into repentance, Constantines seem to have known it all along, and a lot more besides.

While they hit with the same force they found for Shine a Light, the group are confident enough on Tournament of Hearts to vary the texture, spilling out of artsy-punk and into the slippery stutters of “Hotline Operator”, the swampy stomp of “Lizaveta”, or the piano-driven nerve rock of “Thieves”.  The album’s two standout tracks, “Soon Enough” and “You Are a Conductor”, build slowly, with a weariness the group seems unconcerned by, as if they’ve come to terms with struggle: it’s not that it’s not there; it’s that it doesn’t matter.  “Soon enough, work and love will make a man out of you,” Webb sings, and though the music dances a sad waltz with itself, it’s hard not to hear the sweetness in Webb’s bandmates’ harmonies.

It’s tempting to call Constantines the most underappreciated band of the decade, but I’m not sure that that’s really fair.  While they’ve yet to find the sort of wide appeal that their anthems seem to command, it’s impossible to imagine that those who have found their way here have left without something resembling devotion.  This is music based in brotherhood, in fraternity—and what good are anthems if they’re not sung together?  No, this music, this rock ‘n’ roll, isn’t concerned with anything other than exactly where it is.  “I’ll find my wealth all around me,” Webb sings in “Working Full Time”.  “I want to wake up every morning full of wonder.”  And he goes to work. words/ m garner

MP3: Constantines :: Draw us Lines
MP3: Constantines :: Soon Enough
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+ Download Constantines DRM free via eMusic’s 25 free MP3 no risk trial offer
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14 Responses to “Decade :: Constantines, Tournament of Hearts (2005)”

  1. A great write-up on an incredible record from a great band. While the ones who talk about it may be few, we will be talking about what this band did this decade for some time.

    While the albums that bookend their decade (S/T and “Kensington Heights”) are sub-par compared to the mastery of Shine A Light and Tournament of Hearts, the four (and only) records Constantines released this decade stack up against most any other bands 2000’s output, at least in my book.

    I first saw Constantines at the Long Beach itteration of ATP, where they really blew me away. Bruce Springsteen was not the immediate parallel, rather The Clash was in many senses, and I walked away with Shine A Light in hand.

    What is very interesting is that like you speak about in Soon Enough, likewise Shine A Light had “On To You” – a track marked by interesting harmonies and their trademark hard but soft feel.

    Also to be noted: their fantastic cover of “Thank You For Sending Me An Angel”

  2. Great essay. “Soon Enough” is one of the best songs of decade.

  3. “THE decade,” rather.

  4. Man, great pick. A band I’ve certainly neglected. Really enjoyed this one.

  5. this is easily the best write up i’ve seen them!!! i completely agree. the constantines have been a favorite of mine since i first saw them in toronto many years ago before the first lp came out. their live shows are beyond incredible and they are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. also, i happen to think kensington heights is amazing.

  6. seen – ON – them

  7. I’ve been waiting for this day — an AD post about my favourite band — for what seems like forever. Great write-up, too.

    Their debut is my favourite release of the decade, and Shine a Light is somewhere in my top ten, but this gem isn’t too far behind. “Soon Enough” still floors me, even after hundreds of listens. Always loved their album covers (especially this one), too.

    I’ve seen the band live over a dozen times and they never fail to blow me away. I’m catching a couple of their 10th anniversary shows in December and I can’t wait. I’m still yet to catch them playing as Horsey Craze, though.

  8. I’m not one to shoot down any discussion of the Cons. They don’t really inspire indifference – either you know and love them or you don’t know about them at all.

    But I’d come out in favor of Kensington Heights every day of the week. Aside from one bad song (“Credit River”) and one nothing song (“I Will Not Sing A Hateful Song”), I think it’s their best and most mature record by miles.

  9. I fell in love with the Constantines after seeing them at Great Scott in Boston around the time Shine A Light came out. Sitting and waiting for the subway home, my friend said something like, “if I had that guy’s voice I would just sit in a room and scream so I can listen to myself.” I always thought that was an apt description of just how awesome they are.

  10. @ Kaley — Can’t tell you how jealous I am. The only time I’ve seen the Cons was on the Shine a Light tour at a truck stop in Port Allen, Louisiana. I moved to Quebec about four months ago and for the first month and a half that I lived here, they were the only band I listened to. Super-disappointed that they’re not coming to Montreal on this tenth anniversary tour (though I’m impressed that they’re playing in no less than seven different cities in Ontario).

    @ All Canadian readers — I get the feeling that the Cons are much more popular here than they are in the States. Is that true? They seem quintessentially Canadian for some reason that I can’t really place…

  11. I remember Tim Perlich–former music critic for Toronto’s NOW magazine–giving this one star. It just reeked of hipster snootiness, and he drew considerable flack for it.

  12. @ marty — They’re definitely quintessentially Canadian, for reasons yet unknown to me. The majority of the (music obsessive) non-Canadian friends I’ve made through the years have been living Cons-free lives until I came into the picture, which I find harder and harder to believe with each passing day. And don’t worry, as a Canadian resident, you’re sure to see your fair share of Cons shows. I live basically in the middle of nowhere (Saskatchewan) and I’ve seen at least two shows a year for the past five years. As far as I know, Bryan lives in Montreal, so maybe you’ll even catch a Harbour Coats when that picks up, which is hopefully soon.

    This video is essential viewing (and what I always use an introduction): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1ayROdpMvY.

    Can you tell I love this band? Haha.

  13. Great essay. “Soon Enough” is one of the best songs of decade.

    Seconded on both counts.

  14. Count me as one of the Cons faithful. Great live band, and they’ve got a fantastic catalog of recorded music. I first saw them on the Shine a Light tour in Ottawa… I left the show with their CD and a new outlook on how live music can be performed. Someone mentioned the Clash in an earlier post, I’d say that comparison is accurate. I’ve since seen the Cons a handful of other times, each show a treasure.

    My real reason for posting though is to shine some light (no pun intended) on a Cons side project by guitarist Steve Lambke called Baby Eagle. He has put out two full length albums as baby Eagle which are both great, and has recently released a split LP with Attack in Black where the bands cover each others songs (4 each). There was a limited vinyl release of only 500 copies that are pretty hard to come by, but the MP3s are available at zunior.com
    This LP is probably the best piece of music I’ve bought all year … not a dud in the bunch. Check it Out!

    http://www.zunior.com/product_info.php?products_id=2407&osCsid=3svmhtirujoem0vpkg2r9b2q72

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