It is likely as gigantic personal error on my part trying to parse out life in a bunch of transient rock albums as it would be drinking one's way down the mortal coil, but you have to do something. Deep in writing a book that I am resisting calling a memoir, mostly because I think my exploits pale in comparison to the music I select to express them, I'm stumbling toward some revelation, possibly one I am ill-prepared to handle, but whatever, drink up, for closing time approaches! The advertising firms hired by Merrill Lynch would have you believe that life is in fact not a journey but an extended bout of vacation planning, with a deck chair and a sunset and a mimosa awaiting you. They are probably right, but I prefer a cocktail Viking exegesis, with Odin's one eye on the apocalypse offering a bitter after taste, served over the cool ice of Existentialism, leaving an empty glass when I'm finished.*
(Arts & Crafts)
I thought my rock 'n' roll happy hour was going to be derailed by some Terry Riley minimalism on the opening track "Hard Feelings" but quickly the power chords strut through wall of electric fuzz organ, and revealed Kensington Heights as one of the better neighborhoods in a Kansas song. Sure, Kansas is a bloated abomination of a group, but there is undeniable awesomeness within its jurisdiction (just witness this schoolgirl tearing "Carry on My Wayward Son" a new asshole on a church organ) That distillation of a great rock moment, that segment of awesomeness when a solo ignites for liftoff or a riff alters the Earth's rotation, is what Constantines are after. "Trans Canada" has the rock-disco underbeat that everyone from Stevie Nicks to KISS found transcendence in, hell, the entire 80's utilized; "Shower of Stones" lurks in the mudslide in which bathed both Sabbath and Bauhaus - oh love can be a shower of stones. Yes, Constantines, it sure can be. Rock after rock tumbles through the record: Nirvana meets Arcade Fire in "Our Age", the Sparklehorse guy fronting My Morning Jacket on "Time Can Be Overcome", Mars Volta and Joy Division on "Credit River" - this record is a buffet of curious concoction. But as with Blitzen Trapper, this is the time in which we live, everything is coming at once and the youth are of America are left to drink the mess down, and if it means (the) Constantines are having to run all over the court like a tennis partner, returning every lob over the net, then I bid these wayward sons to carry on.
Ladyhawk has a tighter focus on what they are after - that blustery glory about four or twelve drinks into the evening, where the ridges of your dinosaur spine stand on edge, revealing your reptilian nature."I Don't Always Know What You're Saying" revels in the lost art of having one good line and building a song around it, maybe running a solo or two up the trellis, leaving enough footholds so that you can climb it to get on the roof and howl at something. "(I'll Be Your) Ashtray" is so perfect a bellowing drunken love song, in both concept and practice, I want to buy this band the next round. "Faces of Death" offers a painful glimpse of the drunken truth realization moment in the line "there is no such thing as endless love" and chases it to the vanishing point on the stomping ramble "You Ran." Now this would be a perfect juncture to call it a night, but as anyone who has experienced the great here-is-now rages of drink knows, you cannot quit while you are ahead, hence the ten-plus minute "Ghost Blues" that closes this record. Like that last bit of imparted wisdom at 1:35 in the morning, it starts out good, comprehensive of the evening's proceedings in its lope, but well, it goes on way too long and, er, it's been good talking to you, but I got work in the morning. I am of the belief that in that final hour, the greater truths are revealed, but then, I am often left to witness it alone, my fellow travelers having paid their tabs and departed.
*Yes, this is a bit of a stretch, but at least I'm not trying to make some point out of both bands being from Canada.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com