THE CONSTANTINES COME complete with an anxious shiver, a jitter of guitars, or one of the singers' voices quavering out when you least expect it. And it's familiar—an uneasy, mild paranoia that feels like movies about coke or dark '80s pop songs or Karen O bristling along with her band's wind-tunneling howl. It also has a simplicity that makes sense, a conventionality that feels like Springsteen when he's not getting too cheeseball with the E Street Band.
But it's that bed of the familiar—of music that's good but always stays on the turf we know and love—that lets the lyrics, the voices, and just the general vibe of the thing establish its character. First, there are two singers. Steve Lambke's voice is dry and pipe-cleaner thin. Bryan Webb comes at us like a grown-up Blake Schwarzenbach, almost gravely but never gruff, a credible-feeling everyman's voice. In both Lambke and Webb's voices there are no histrionics, effects, or anything all that audacious—it's just trustworthy, sensible, and conversational. Sure they can peel out of the driveway, spitting gravel like a motherfucker, and act ragged if they want, but most of the time it's like the dudes are just talking to us. And when they talk, they drop tiny fragments of imagery that are vivid as movie scenes—mind pictures that evoke all sorts of Everyday American Experience plotline and backstory.
In "Lizaveta," off the Guelph, Ontario band's new one, Tournament of Hearts, Webb sings, "Lizaveta, we stood together in the pissing rain/your skin was showing through your shirt," and we're right there being rained on, smelling the hot blacktop, and standing next to Lizaveta, her white polo shirt wet and a brief glimmer of peach skin showing through, maybe the dark of a boxy little nipple or the small of her back. Or on "Windy Road" when Lambke sings, "the ocean is a silver flask," we're there on the rocks, feeling the salt air on our face, staring at the moonlit sea in those small hours before dawn where everything is beautiful and placid and feels frozen in time. Like any good storyteller Lambke and Webb drag us into their heads and serve up their respective psyches—all the solace and delight and confusion and pissed-off rage, steaming and uncomfortable—but they make us feel (or even believe) that they're talking about us, that it's our skulls we're swimming around in.
As guitars cry out and breathe reverb over bass and drums that keep time like a poppier Clash song or "Sunglasses at Night," Webb throws down names ("Sheryl Lynn let them in/let no one whose time is known go alone" on "Good Nurse") and places ("Herald Square" on "Draw Us Lines"), and a set of scenery is laid before us, a natural world built up out of sheets of rain and bees in the flowerbeds and sunrises until Tournament of Hearts is its own reality, a place you leave when you hit the stop button and everything fades—finally—to real around you.