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Sub Pop

I recently read a screed from a rock critic-type who said he was tired. Tired of the Next Big Thing, tired of the inevitable next Next Big Thing, and tired of the whole (tired) concept of record reviewing in general. His argument was this: albums "hit" you, or they don't. They insinuate themselves into your heart and mind, unlocking previously locked doors you were either unaware of -- or had forgotten about -- or they don't, and all the ass, grass, and (media) gas in the world isn't going to make them seem otherwise.

Which brings me, however indirectly, to The Constantines. The self-titled Constantines is the Canadian band's debut album, but careful record store shoppers have heard of them for years, courtesy of a series of smashing EPs that has led yours truly, in weaker moments, to dub them the "Canuck Clash." (Which, of course, is pretty needless hyperbole. They don't swing as much as the Clash, preferring a more Fugazi-style sepia-tone stomp, and me even insinuating such a thing tells the listener/reader nothing other than, "Hey, that Tim Davis is a big Clash fan." Which is true. The Clash may not have "changed my life," but they damn sure charged it.) Constantines is a damn good album, though, full of call-out "choruses" and riffs so well realized that they seem to become (a la James Joyce's theory of literary transubstantiation) physical objects. Openers "Arizona" and "The Long Distance Four" stick pretty firmly to the band's m.o. -- proven rock riffs for the proven rock fan, charged with life through the utter sincerity of the message: let go, but for God's sake, hang on. The album (and the band, and your ears) then lets down its guard enough to really welcome you in (see the black-is-beautiful "Hyacinth Blues" and "St. You").

Bottom line: This album worked for me. Will you like it? God only knows. I only know what the Constantines tell me: No matter what you do, just make sure to like something.

Track to Burn: "Hyacinth Blues"
Grade: A---Timothy C. Davis

N. Lannon
Chemical Friends
Badman Records

Nyles Lannon's work with San Francisco slowcore proponents Film School indicates that the guitarist and singer knows his Low and Bedhead. His first excursion (as n.Ln) into electronica, 2003's Astronomy for Children, suggests he has a firm grasp of the Boards of Canada and Fennesz songbooks. His new release, Chemical Friends, sounds like he's been boning up on his Elliot Smith, Simon & Garfunkel, and Nick Drake, too. The result of all this study is a confluence of influence: intricate fingerpicked acoustics, melancholy lyrics, and programmed beats and synths. Lannon demonstrated on Astronomy... that his songs set him apart in the electronica world; that's also the case over here in the land of folktronica. "The Catch" sets a high standard out of the gate, Lannon's nimble fingerwork and hushed voice enhanced with layers of synth wash and a horde of well-placed glitches. Over the course of the next 10 tunes, Lannon weaves a hypnotic effect, songs like "Turn Time Around," "Fortune Cookie" and especially "Spy" calling to mind the late Smith -- all the while incorporating shifting computer arrangements at all the right junctures. But like all the best home recordings, Chemical Friends succeeds because of melody -- and with these influences, that's just good home schooling.

Track to Burn: "Cruel"
Grade: B+ --John Schacht

Windsor For the Derby
We Fight Till Death
Secretly Canadian

Having sold millions of records and performed in sold-out stadiums across the globe, the beloved and ubiquitous Windsor for the Derby could afford to take some chances with their 5th full length -- the result should guarantee their place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Led by two of the paparazzi's most profitable targets, Dan Matz and Jason McNeely, We Fight Till Death is the work of a band that clearly doesn't need MTV anymore to help get the word out -- these boys arrived long ago.

Cherry-picking pop sensibilities from their last full-length (the triple platinum The Emotional Rescue LP) and dark dirges from their biggest and most controversial seller, Minnie Greutzfeldt, Matz and McNeely open the disc with an epic 8-minute slice of post rock -- current radio hit "The Melody of a Fallen Tree" -- which sounds like an outtake from Eno's Another Green World. The boys add more influences along the way from obscur-o bands like Pink Floyd and New Order to more famous acts like Yo La Tengo and American Analog Set. Maybe in some alternative universe these guys would have toiled in obscurity, releasing wonderful records almost no one would hear -- I shudder to think what such a world would be like.

Track to Burn: "The Melody of a Fallen Tree"
Grade: A- --John Schacht

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