Kensington Heights is the fourth album from Ontarios Constantines and their first since 2005. The group, best known for a powerful live show, has yet to capture their stage presence on a piece of wax. However, the record takes strides and shows flashes of that magic energy that sets the group apart from many other indie rockers.
The band uses a blend of intricate, layered parts and straight forward, emotional rock that was well at home on Sub Pop. For this release, however, the band has shifted to the Canadian Arts & Crafts label. Their sound is based around their layered guitar work, with Webbs rough and emotive vocals serving as an accent to the forward-propelling rhythms. On songs like Hard Feelings, you can practically feel his emotion pouring into the open. It takes the personal feeling of the song beyond being just another track on a CD and reminds you that theres a person behind what youre listening to - something sorely lacking in most music. Mostly, the more rocking songs carry the record while the more elaborate (which thrive in the live show) tend to flop. For every Brother Run Them Down there is a Time Can Be Overcome to sift through. I Will Not Sing a Hateful Song is probably the only ballad on the record I find myself enjoying and I cant quite pinpoint what separates it from the clunkers. It does seem to have more dynamics and a more traditional structure than some of the other tracks with a similar tempo. Its also a little more concise, clocking four minutes instead of five plus. The longer ones dont quite come across right on record, and when Life or Death starts its buildup, I just dont find myself interested until the song is halfway in motion.
Just looking at the song titles should give a taste of what the Constantines are about: partial sentence titles with a direct subject matter, often using traditional metaphors like weather, geography, and time. Theyre a literate band, but without being pretentious or trying to do too much within a limited confine.
There are a couple of clunkers on the record, but this is a very consistent release that continues to grow despite its shortcomings. Its not perfect, but when the Constantines get to that point, everyone will know.
7.5 / 10
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