The Constantines, Shine A Light
When the Canadians began streaming across the border in 2003 to liberate indie rock from America's decade-long stranglehold, it was just about the most bloodless coup you ever saw. Albums by Broken Social Scene, the New Pornographers, Metric and Stars were largely sophisticated, sweat-free pop efforts put forth by loosely assembled collectives and often polished to a high-gloss veneer. All the heavy lifting would have to be done by the Constantines, a five-piece band from Guelph, Ontario, with a real reverence for rock 'n' roll's past and a working-class approach to its current construction. Sophomore album Shine A Light is heavily influenced by the '90s D.C. post-punk scene — particularly Fugazi — but the rhythmic tension and serrated guitar edges are nicely rounded out by keyboard and, on occasion, some low-bellowing horns. But the Constantines' best weapon is frontman Bry Webb's voice, which ranges from a Joe Strummer-borrowed bark to a God-given roar; when he sings, "I was a late-breaking back alley mistake/ Howling at the moon," it doesn't sound like art or fiction. It sounds like the real mess of youth and yearning, a rough theme that runs through Shine a Light from the anti-establishment punk thrash of opener "National Hum" to the teen-spirited "Young Lions." For all the complicated fury and skronk kicked up by the band and all the weather-beaten emotion conveyed by Webb, the Constantines are surprisingly optimistic, utterly unironic and un-punk. "On To You," the album's catchiest song, has Webb singing, "We may never be angels but we're lousy with the spirit." He's not talking about religion, but you might want to show a little faith — there's magic in the night.