Sunday, 3 November 2013

Album Review:Los Campesinos! - No Blues


It can be hard to shake off a label once it gets tagged to you. Welsh band Los Campesinos! Know this better than most, being grouped in with other twee bands, . The group didn't do themselves any favours with xylophone melodies and by giving their band name an exclamation mark. Still, the twee label didn't seem to sit so well with them and their albums following their debut seemed to be a reaction to it, embracing darker themes and more varied sounds.

The band, who formed in Cardiff, put out their first EP Sticking Fingers into Sockets way back in 2007 and rode upon a wave of hype with their ramshackle indie pop early tracks like We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives and You! Me! Dancing displayed a sharp wit and humour in singer Gareth Campesinos! which he combines with the emotional weight, and confessional honesty of early emo. The band's fifth album No Blues carries the pressure of being the first without bassist and founding member Ellen Campesinos!, but this album feels like it has a sharp focus, as they bring some light back in to their sound.

What Death Leaves Behind, the albums first single, also holds its biggest chorus, with it's talk of tautology. But nothing is redundant here, with backing vocals overlapping on the chorus its easy to get drawn in to the grand melody. With a title that displays the word play that is a standard for Los Campesinos!, Cemetery Gaits continues the pop direction with its synthesizer arpeggios and acoustic strums. The band are at their most direct and uplifting as Gareth sings 'Happenstance can wait for tomorrow/ cause you got to do it right', his voice carrying a melodic weight to it that is a world away from his coarse outbursts that made up his singing style when he began in the band, at times coming close to a Morrisey-like baritone, as he continues 'Your shoulders flow from neck like a wine bottle's/ bare them broad tonight'. Its firm and resolute but doesn't hide a sadness within the song tale of death and acceptance.

Avocado Baby somehow manages to adopt the dangerous pop cliché of using a children’s choir without it being in any way grating. Much of the album manages to be bigger than before and whilst still sounding huge, the songs have a variety of instruments and details you might not pick up on first listen giving the recordings a depth. Elsewhere the distorted guitar leads of As Lucerne/The Low remind you of their noisier beginnings and the victorious build of The Time Before The Last Time shows the can try their hand at different structures as the song grows on the back of drum rolls and a triumphant horn section. Selling Rope (Swan Dive To Estuary) might be the best song they've done, with its huge scope, narrative intricacies and sweeping orchestrations, their most definitive statement on facing life and death head on.

Gareth's lyrics still feel like emotional outpourings and it can sometimes be tiring just keeping up with his manic delivery, still his words can be poured over for double meanings and metaphor. He has a knack for unique and articulate observations that you can't imagine being written by anyone else. Of course, his heart on sleeve approach may be off putting for some but just as many others will relish in picking them apart. No Blues finds the band at their most confident, every song seems direct and refined. The group are unafraid of simple, upbeat songs with a verse chorus structure,
in fact they excel at them. They've outlived and outgrown the twee label, now it is just smart pop music, and not smart for its own sake either, just a mature balance of light and dark and, more impressively, both thoughtful and immediate.

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