Review Summary: Wake up world.
Stop. Stop right there. Are you one of the many people who still complain about Los Campesinos!'s sound? About how annoyed you are they haven't gone back to sounding like they did on Hold on now, Youngster...? About how sad you are they've decided to progress with their sound rather than writing the same quirky Twee-punk songs over and over again? You are? Then GET OVER YOURSELF! No one likes a whiner, especially when it's about something other people (however few it seems to be) have managed to accept. Los Campesinos! are no longer the happy, quirky, lyrically clever group you remember. They have progressed into awkward, funny, lyrically clever weirdos. And this isn't going to change back. They're not like a spring. They may stretch and stretch their sound to new boundaries, but they are not going to return back to where they started. This is the new Los Campesinos! The productionally conscious Los Campesinos! The still brilliant Los Campesinos!
I am going to be honest here. Los Campesinos! have been my favourite band for about four years now. This gives this review a good chance of being exaggerated and biased, so you should take what I say with a pinch of salt. However, I am prepared to say that this album definitely does not stick the first time you listen to it. It is easy to see people listening to the first three songs and then losing interest as the album becomes darker. Songs like 'To Tundra' and 'Life is a long time' will take a few listens before you can fully appreciate their sound. By far the most memorable track is 'By your hand' which opens the album. This is one of two songs on the album which aren't especially dark in their lyrics or sound. Unified singing, catchy synth throughout, a powerful tom based drum pattern underneath and a section showing off (though not much) the vocal talent of the main writer of Los Campesinos! songs, Tom 'Spraky Deathcap' Campesinos, this song is memorable and catchy, and by far the most like their previous efforts. It is however a very misleading song for them to open the album with. Although it is followed up with the cheeky 'Songs about your girlfriend', a song about stealing someone else's girlfriend (which could also easily belong on a previous album), the album begins it's rapid descent into darkness.
You may have guessed from the album title this wasn't going to be a happy album. I only say 'may have guessed' due to the people I mentioned in the first paragraph who seem to believe Los Campesinos! will return to their first album's sound. Well guess again piggies! Hello sadness (the track) pretty much sums you up with the line, "It's only hope that springs eternal, and that's the reason why, what's dripping from this broken heart is never running dry." Musically, every song on this album is beautifully done. The mixture of Rob Campesinos' Arpeggiation style of guitar playing and the way Gareth's vocals discuss between himself and an echoed version of himself with his constant storytelling clever lyrics gives 'Hate for the Island a melancholic atmospheric feel. 'The Black Bird, The Dark Slope' manages to maintain an energetic feel while still getting across a sad vibe with its lyrics mentioning the black bird inside of him causing misery to those around him. last eight songs on the album all manage to get across some form of sad emotion, no matter if they are upbeat and energetic (Which only one is). On previous releases such as 'Miserabilia' from 'We are Beautiful, We are Doomed' this could only be fully achieved through Gareth's lyrics, as the band were not ready to step down the path of darkness they were oh so destined for. On this album, however, they have completely succeeded in combing their sound with the lyrics.
I'd like to mention here about Gareth, who I have mentioned in previous paragraphs, to anyone new to this band. Gareth isn't a very good singer, in all honesty. His whiny voice and constant feel of despair he gets across aren't things you would always want to listen to. However, getting the feel of his voice and letting it flow through you is completely essential for this album. In previous releases, the band had Aleks, the ex-female singer of Los Campesinos!, to accompany him and fill in the gaps he could not. However, she has left and Gareth has been left to the main duty of singing every bit of this album. There are only two parts on this album where he does not sing (Replaced respectively by Rob and Kim). The true beauty behind Los Campesinos! lie in their lyrics. It is undeniable that Gareth is a genius when it comes to lyrics, spring forth stories and metaphors all over the place giving the songs true depth. This is the main problem with the new album; understanding that Gareth is the key part of Los Campesinos! He can be very off putting to listeners without the help of Aleks to create a balance in the singing.
Los Campesinos! probably wouldn't work if they were not a septet. All the different instruments are key to their sound. Most of the songs off of their previous works would just not be the same without Gareth hitting his xylophone every chance he got. The key member behind Los Campesinos! sound though is Harriet. Harriet is probably the most underrated Campesinos!; her prickly pizzicato or melancholy bowing repeatedly add emotional heft to Gareth's conversational vocals. This isn't to say that the other members don't help. The synth work provided by Kim is great for the more atmospheric moments, and Rob is able to make his guitar stand out through the sound they make when it so pleases him. Considering this album is a step up production wise from the other albums, it is easy to see that without any of their members, Los Campesinos! would not have the big whole sound that they do right now.
It would be pleasing if this was a shout out to anyone who reviews this album in the future. Look at the bigger picture. Look past the lack of energy compared to their previous stuff. Look past the sub-par vocals. Stop whining about the change in sound! This album is a wonderful view of the idea of breaking up and then breaking down. It is definitely harder to enjoy this then the previous albums though. It is hard to imagine anyone listening to the whole album once and understanding it all, viewing it as a work of art and seeing the depth in every song. This album grows on you. It melts into your mind and leaves you stunned. It makes you realise how simple things that lie around you can be transformed into meaning by hearing Gareth sing. This is a great album. It is by no means perfect. Very few albums are. Romance is Boring was the end of the beginning of Los Campesinos! This album is the next step forward. The step towards new things. The step into the unknown.