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The Haul: Constants' The Foundation The Machine The Ascension

I have a love/hate relationship with mail order. I owe a key chunk of my music collection to shipments from Parasol Mail Order, Newbury Comics, and the now defunct CDNow and Music Boulevard, since they granted me access to independent rock staples that I couldn’t find at either the nearby Rhino Records or Circuit City / Media Play / other defunct big box stores in high school. Yet as I’ve grown accustomed to shopping at record stores, including Parasol in Champaign and Newbury Comics in Boston, I’ve had less reason to rely on mail order, and with the threat of Somerville mail thieves, I dread the potential of an unsuccessful delivery. Maybe once I have a house in the suburbs [editor’s note: i.e., now] it’ll be a less pressing concern and I’ll return to my mail-ordering ways, but I’d much rather go out to a store and press my luck with stock than place an order and press my luck with neighborhood kids. If you’re willing to steal a copy of Rachel’s Systems/Layers, I’d consider limited edition vinyl fair game as well.

I’d mentioned this particular limited edition vinyl before, but it’s worth mentioning the specifics again—three colored LPs in a triple gatefold sleeve with embossed artwork. Mylene Sheath deserves special praise for one-upping vinyl-oriented labels like Temporary Residence and Hydrahead. (Okay, the Eluvium box on TRL is impossible to one-up, but still.)

96. Constants – The Foundation The Machine The Ascension 3LP – Mylene Sheath, 2009 – $25

Constants' The Foundation the Machine the Ascension

Constants’ aesthetic blueprint could’ve been drawn from various parts of my brain. Take the churning space rock of Hum and Failure, add in the weight of post-metal groups like Isis and Pelican, then pull in a secondary dose of instrumental post-rock for the drifting passages. “Passage,” an emotional, heavy, dynamic rocker from an exemplary split single with post-rockers Caspian, was the perfect advertisement for The Foundation The Machine The Ascension. It put my hopes for TFTMTA through the roof, so it’s not surprising that the album doesn’t quite hold up to its imagined heights.

Although the sonic template is compelling and many of the songs are excellent, The Foundation has two key problems: the vocals and the length. The gang vocal approach works in small doses, which is why I enjoyed them on “Passage,” but over the course of an hour-long record, they often sound muddy. Multi-tracked vocals work best when you can hear different intonations from the various takes—Cat Power is exceptional at this trick—but too often Constants’ vocals blur together, detracting from the emotional impact and making for too many similar-sounding choruses. A more-is-less issue also pops up occasionally for the layers of guitar and keyboards, which reminds me of how effective Isis is when elements bob and weave instead of pile on top of each other. Constants use this approach from time to time—the beginning of the extended outro in “Passage” is a great example—but I suspect changing from two guitarists to one during the writing and recording of this album took away from some of the counterpoint between guitar parts.

The Foundation’s epic vinyl package is certainly impressive, but it would’ve been a noticeably better album if it had been condensed to two LPs. It simply lacks the instrumental variation to support 12 songs and 59 minutes. Highlights like “Genetics Like Chess Pieces,” “Those Who Came Before Pt. 1,” “Ascension,” and “Passage” feel buried rather than highlighted. Cut out two or three songs (“Identify the Indiscernables” and “Eternal Reoccurance” are prime candidates), trim the run time down by ten or fifteen minutes, and it’s a profoundly different album.

I’m likely being too hard on Constants and The Foundation The Machine The Ascension, since it’s not that far off from being a top-ten album for the year, but that’s what happens when you release such a beast of a song as the pre-album single. If you’re into Caspian, Pelican, Isis, Hum, Failure, or The Life and Times, there’s certainly something here for you, but I suspect that Constants’ next album will be when those elements converge into a thoroughly impressive album.

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