Tournament Of Hearts
an, do the Constantines sound tired. Which makes sense—among the collapse of their original label and a fairly punishing touring schedules, these young men are Canada's leading troubadours of urban decay, shitty industrial blocks, doomed romantic pronouncements, youthful idolization, and, yes, of that old beast rock and roll. But just as their contemporaries seem to be amping everything UP they're settling in and mining a rich seam of grinding disappointment wrapped around a core of pure hope (or vice versa). There are no “National Hum”s here, not even an “Insectivora”; they muster something blaring on “Working Full-Time,” crying “we are not what we once were,” but it's a chug, not a gallop. Surprisingly though the Cons' weary muse suits them well, dulling the city glamour of “Young Lions” and “On To You” into something approximating the rocks on the front of Tournament Of Hearts for longevity and power.
“Lizaveta,” all horns and chants, channels a little of label mates Oneida's recent magic, although it stays earth-bound, urging you to “be sensitive / You were born to live.” It tellingly segues into “Soon Enough,” rough-hewn and just as passionate as the Cons have always been, but sturdier. This whole album feels like a band proving to us they don't need flash to grab our hearts again, a steadfast avoidance of the easy tricks in favour of hard, satisfying work. It's not a big move; “Draw Us Lines” and “Hotline Operator” conjure the same fireworks as ever, but it's how they do it that's the key. The bands' three albums thus far seem to be a process of refining, of slowly melting off less crucial mannerisms and styles until they reach the Event Horizon, where all moods and modes can be expressed through the same direct, basic ingredients.
Aside from a curious muting of Will Kidman's keys the whole band continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Bry Webb sounds utterly urgent & key gulping through “Love In Fear” or muttering during the massive “You Are A Conductor,” their most direct mash note to the crowd yet. Steve Lambke, meanwhile, has shifted from his earlier agit-punk efforts into a pair of hushed tracks, one marrying sweet saxophone with paranoid guitars (“Thieves”) and the other evoking an even more fragile Eric's Trip (the closing “Windy Roads”). Both of their guitars seem to be learning that brevity is the soul of wit, and discretion that of power. They never scream and they never thrash, and they sound a hell of a lot tougher than a hundred post-hardcore outfits. Drummer Doug McGregor and bassist Dallas Wehrle benefit from the increased space the bare bones production gives them; McGregor in particular stomps all over this album.
While the sound isn't as technicolour, the songwriting remains strong; “You Are A Conductor,” the taut “Love In Fear,” and the full stomp of “Working Full-Time” (and everyone howls “We are not what we once were”) are all the sorts of songs that make middle-aged men believe in their youth again and make rockist bores mutter dire things about authenticity, but their potency exists above and beyond that, untainted.
But it's the feel that ultimately carries them over their contemporaries. This isn't quite the album that Shine A Light is (however long it took me to realise that), this slate-grey retrenching never quite blasts it out of the park like “On To You” or “Young Offenders” did. It proves they can grow old just as contentiously as they grew up, that theirs is not a muse whom custom can wither. They're still Douglas Adams pessimists, muttering dire suspicions in humanity's general direction while reapplying their hearts to their sleeves, still in love. A slow burn may not be quite as exciting as a scorch, but this is a hotter flame than most anything else you'll hear this year; long may they combust.