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CONSTANTINES (Buy CDs by this artist)
Constantines (Can. Three Gut) 2001 (Three Gut / Sub Pop) 2004
Modern Sinner Nervous Man EP (Suicide Squeeze) 2002
Nighttime/Anytime EP (Sub Pop) 2003
Shine a Light (Sub Pop) 2003

Pooled from the Canadian cities of London and Guelph, Ontario, Canada's Constantines channel the swaggering bravado of old school cock-rock through the no-bullshit ferocity and incision of eggheady guitar punk. Serious, nearly desperate at times, the Cons remain solidly in control, a tense, taut, sharp-edged machine of energy and ideas. To their exceptional credit, they know their way around hooks, and aren't afraid to dangle them into the din. But they can also snag a thorny groove and ride it, a punk analogue to the leap of faith that allowed James Brown to build entire monuments of funk on a single chord. At their best, on Shine a Light's powerful "Young Lions," the quintet crosses Thin Lizzy (vocals and melody) with the slashing, stuttering thunder of Gang of Four. On paper, the blend may sound faintly ridiculous, but the mid-disc track is truly something to behold.

Bry Webb (vocals/guitar), Steve Lambke (vocals/guitar), Dallas Wehrle (bass) and Doug MacGregor (drums) originally formed the band; Will Kidman replaced a keyboardist who joined after the first album. The first lyric on The Constantines — "This is a song about the death of Danny Rapp" (If you don't get the reference, Rapp was the lead singer of Danny and the Juniors, who famously sang "Rock and Roll Is Here to Stay" in 1958. Rapp topped himself 25 years later, leaving the music to do what he could not) — opens and raises the intellectual and historical stakes in a gripping instant; in the song (titled "Arizona," of all things), Webb goes on to demand "the death of rock and roll," which is deemed "music of the minions" in a husky voice whose uncanny resemblance to Joe Strummer's puts a wistful edge on the proceedings. (On the other hand, the beginning of "Justice" sounds more like a manhandled Bon Jovi number and "Steal This Sound" toys with the bizarre notion of Strummer fronting Cheap Trick. The most common critical comparison so far? Bruce Springsteen.) The disarmingly diverse album ("Saint You," gently acoustic, is tucked snugly in just the right spot) goes on to deliver cynical, clangy songs about rock and the environment in which it flourishes — parties, families, streets, lust, drugs, lines. Simply rendered but virulent, surefooted, opinionated and smart, The Constantines comes out of nowhere and leaves a gaping emotional hole when it ends.

Landing at Sub Pop for the States, the Cons returned in 2003 with Shine a Light. It's a more considered and deliberate record than the debut, a ambitious variation on the theme but no less thought-provoking or exciting. The careening opener, "National Hum," uses a jarring (dis)chord between the verses to fine effect; the expansive "Shine a Light" makes the benefit of an organist in the lineup clear and "Young Lions" is simply monumental. The album culminates in the explosively building "Tank Commander (Hung Up in a Warehouse Town)" and the muscular but acoustic "Sub-Domestic," a surprise repeat of the debut's dynamic scheme that again leaves the silence charged with energy.

Nighttime/Anytime is a four-song single containing two album tracks, a new song and a cover of Talking Heads' "Thank You for Sending Me an Angel."

[Ira Robbins]