Los Campesinos!’s new album… wait, shouldn’t that be “¡Los Campesinos!” ? Where was I again?
Wichita Recordings, 2013
6.9 / 10
Los Campesinos! offers so many questions. The founding band members all hail from Cardif, United Kingdom, which is definitely not in Mexico, or Spain, or anywhere in Latin America. And none of the band members are Spanish. So why the Spanish band name? And while we’re at it, what’s going on with the exclamation mark? Imagine my dismay, receiving an album from a band called “Los Campesinos!” and not being treated with ranchero or mariachi music! Actually, let me rephrase that: imagine my fucking relief upon realizing this wasn’t ranchero or mariachi music.
But Los Campesinos!1 is not an obscure band — chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard of them, or you have already listened to them. 2010’s Romance Is Boring and 2011’s Hello Sadness found the band inching closer and closer to becoming a household name2. Their fifth record, NO BLUES, doesn’t found the band moving in new directions as much as refining and slimming down their sound.
Witty, clever lyrics have long been a hallmark of Los Campesinos!, and while there aren’t a plethora of moments that stick with the listener (compared to previous releases), the lyrics that do stick are well worth revisiting. The below lines from “Avocado, Baby” are interesting, vivid, and impossible to ignore. And when he, along with a cheerleading squad, belts the quirky refrain “A heart of stone, rind so tough it’s crazy, that’s why they call me the avocado, baby!”, it’s just icing on the kooky cake.
I feel like I’m a host of a terrible gameshow
And the guests on today’s quiz are celebrities.
They won’t respond to any clues
They’re just cracking jokes for views
But the answers to these questions mean everything.
There’s a few problems that plague NO BLUES though – the band’s music is overcompressed on this album. Every instrument, regardless of the song or tempo, sounds like its volume has been cranked up to the max. Instead of sounding energetic and lively, the music sounds flat and crowded, and when the band does change up its tone (whether it be tempo or style), the mix of NO BLUES prevents it from being remarkable in any way. The big choruses just don’t feel as big; the ballads just don’t feel as soft. The mix reminds me of Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto3. The other issue is Gareth Campesinos!’s vocals. His delivery is desperate and loose, and it doesn’t always fit over the band’s backing music. Because NO BLUES is largely reserved, Gareth’s delivery has a hard time finding a home, but when it works, it works big time. The album’s first two lead singles, “What Death Leaves Behind” and “Avocado, Baby” offer a glimpse of how strong Los Campesinos!’s music can be when all of its pieces mesh in the right way.
NO BLUES proves to be a lateral move for the band – as they sand down some of their rougher edges, their songs get poppier at the price of biting, sharp lyrics. Even though this record was produced in part by Tom Campesino!, I can’t help but feel as if this sound just doesn’t do the songs here justice. It’s the middling decent-to-good tracks that suffer; all the overcompression in the world can’t hide a damn good song, and NO BLUES has its fair share of these. Test drive this record before you buy it.
“What Death Leaves Behind”
“Let It Spill”
Purchase: Band’s Website
1. All band members carry the surname “Campesinos!”, marking a pretty common trend these days to do that. The Dum Dum Girls (e.g., Dee Dee Dum Dum, Sandy Dum Dum), The Ramones (e.g., Joey Ramone, Johnny Ramone), and Radiohead (e.g., Thom Radiohead, Ed Radiohead) are a few other notable examples of this.
2. Well, if you live in a household with its thumb on the pulse of indie rock.
3. Sorry I had to go there.