I'm from California. I live near the ocean. I like driving. I like watching baseball. I'm the outside world's perception of a fairly typical American guy (except for my slightly unhealthy obsession with noise-rock, but this is neither the time nor the place to get into that). And like most Americans, Canada isn't really something with which I find myself concerning a lot of my time. Canada gets a bad rap from the United States a lot of the time, or, at the very best, an "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy is usually exercised. That is, until it comes to the music. Say what you want about the place, but the people up there aren't wasting their time on pop-punk or nu-metal. Instead, incredible rock records have been pouring out in a steady flow since the Montreal collective that unleashed Godspeed You Black Emperor onto the world kicked down the indie rock doors and flooded the market with great records from tiny bands on formerly unknown labels. More and more these days, these bands are able to make the jump onto a larger label with better distro and manage to make an impact in the United States. Call it the right record at the right time, call it clever marketing of the whole "mystery" concept, but our friends in the great white north are faring far better than us Americans down south. Moving from Three Gut Records, who you've never heard of, to Sub Pop, the Constantines have released a simply great rock record. And that's really the only thing I can say about it. I've listened to it at least a dozen times in the last two days, and I still can't get a firm grasp on exactly what makes it such a great record. Shine A Light is a statement record without the statement, a purposeful roar that lacks a definition, the kind of record that exists for one reason, and one reason only: simply to be. It's artistic without falling into the traps of actually being "artsy", it's catchy and hooky without being simple pop music, it rocks without being a standard rock record. It's got that "two guitars and keys" sound throughout its duration, but it manages to transcend that entire sound by being far more solid and rooted in standard rock music, sounding like a rock band that writes their songs in a garage as opposed to being a garage-rock band; you'll find more in common here with post-punk than with anything else. Its commitment to precision and excellence throughout is the only real trademark the record has, one that takes repeated listens to really understand and appreciate. Traces of smoky jazz, singer/songwriting folk, and even bits and pieces of hardcore and post-rock (very small ones, mind you, as subtle as a vocal inflection or a tension build and release) pop up all over the album, for as relaxed as the music gets, it still remains vibrant and intense throughout its duration, wholly captivating even when it's lulling you to sleep. Every song on the record has something to like, from the hit-you-from-the-front blast of opener "National Hum", to the slinky, fucked-up, jazz-inflected mish-mash of "Goodbye Baby & Amen" and "Insectivora", to the laid-back pop of "Nighttime Anytime (It's Alright)", "Poison", and "On to You". "Goodbye Baby And Amen" remains the stand-out cut, relaxing in the way you think of a rag filled with chloroform pressed up to your nose would be, all chirping guitars and lazy horns. "Insectivora", with vocal ruminations like "I'm learning to survive on earthworms and houseflies," possessed horns, and lurching guitars, also manages to inspire the same sense of creeping dread upon repeat listens, only with the threat being directly in your face instead of veiled. The mid-section of this record is when the pop fans will rejoice, with the easy jaunt of "On to You" and "Poison" being infectious from the get-go, with easy hooks and sunny melodies draped over darkly captivating lyrics like "If you're looking for affection / best be careful where you lay your name / because they'll pin your renegade heart to the wall / and leave you there to hang. "Sub-Domestic" ends the record on a high note, with plucked guitars, ambient hum, and light background drumming being one of the few moments of true peace and calm on the record, inspiring you to reach for the "Play" button once the whole ordeal is complete. While, no, it's not the most mind-blowing or original record you'll hear this year, some credit must be given to a band that manages to put out an album as incessantly listenable as this one. As I noted above, I've listened to this record a dozen times in the last two days, and you know what? I still haven't gotten sick of it.
8.4 / 10
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