The Constantines – S/T

The Constantines’ 2003 sophomore release, Shine a Light, had all the makings of an indie-rock classic: a Sprinsteen via Fugazi poetic romanticism, pounding post-punk guitars, a Sub Pop distribution deal, and a shitload of press. Surprisingly enough, the disc remained buried, relegated to second-rate status under the mountains of electro/dance/funk-punk that ate up spots on last year’s best-of lists. Hell, if Shine a Light gets a little more press, then maybe we’re all lining The Constantines next to Interpol and The White Stripes as Young Bands Who Matter.

Of course, being ignored is nothing particularly new for The Constantines (being from Toronto, I imagine this is par for the course). Their self-titled debut was released in 2001, on Canadian indie Three Gut. Ambitiously packaged in dumpster-strewn cardboard with a single blue-tip match, the original pressing is long out of print, and the record still hadn’t seen light in the US until current label Sub Pop decided it was worth another listen.

Looking back, it’s an absolute fucking shame that The Constantines aren’t being heralded as the next great post-punk poets. As it turns out, they’ve got two creative, unbelievable rock albums under their belts, all before anyone has even turned an ear their way. The Constantines is nothing less than a brilliant record of punk-rock wanderlust, fractured through dirty city streets, tragically broken hearts, and jumpy, nervous guitars.

“Arizona,” the disc’s opener, seems to sum up the band’s aesthetic pretty well. Brutish, ugly guitars battle for sonic space with a straightforward drumbeat. The song busts into an anti-anthem, with singer Bryan Webb ranting like a totally sober streetwise junke: “As long as we are dying / We want the death of rock ‘n’ roll.” The songs are so uniformly good, so masterfully constructed that it’s difficult to pick out the standouts. “Some Party” ravages shitty indie rock culture (“Some punks / Getting some kicks / At some party”). “Hyacinth Blues” bleeds slowly until the band breaks down, the guitars cascade, and something like one-hundred voices are spelling out “overdose.” Powerful stuff.

The band’s ability to put together a tune shouldn’t be understated. “The Long Distance Four” is an ashy pop song, rolling along under warm, crackling guitars. “St. You” is the requisite slow jam, but its sparkling folk sound is refreshing next to all of the post-punk genius. The band’s so good at keeping the tunes up that the screaming thrash of “Seven A.M.” is predictably tuneful.

The final song, “Little Instruments,” is a late-night look at all of the perfect, youthful disasters music brings. The song’s hook – “We’ve got an amplifier” – represents not just the band’s rock aesthetic, but all of the optimistic, shout-to-the-world energy of punk rock. It’s a perfect ending for the band’s hard-luck, romantic worldview. The hipsters will call them too serious, too rocking, too young. Fuck ‘em. The Constantines, through two amazing albums, have proven themselves one of the best young bands on the planet.