I’m not quite sure when I first heard Los Campesinos!, but it must have been towards the end of 2007, as I saw them play a show supported by You Say Party! We Say Die! and Sky Larkin in October that year. An eventful 2008 saw them release not one, but two fantastic albums, and now the band have returned with their third full-length, Romance Is Boring – and it’s quite possible that they’ve surpassed themselves with it.
Lyrically, Romance Is Boring is a deeply personal album – indeed, shortly after the record had been maliciously leaked, Gareth stated on the band’s blog that he “puts so much personal and autobiographical stuff into songs that it as good as breaks me”. However, despite the the fact that Gareth spends most of the time talking about his own experiences with life and love, the record is still very easy to relate to. Indeed, one of the reasons I love Los Campesinos! so much is that in pretty much every song, there’s something that touches a nerve. Sometimes, it’s the overarching sentiment of a song – see ‘Romance Is Boring’s frustration at a stagnant relationship, or ‘Straight In At 101’s realisation that ultimately, your own personal heartbreaks barely register in the grand scheme of things. The latter is brilliantly conveyed in the song’s coda – having split up with his girlfriend, Gareth expects it to be considered a signficant event, but what actually transpires is not what he’d hoped for:
“I phone my friends and family to gather round the television; the talking heads count down the most heart-wrenching break ups of all time. Imagine the great sense of waste, the indiginty, the embarrassment, when not a single one of that whole century was mine.”
Sometimes though, it’s a single line that really hits home. “Sometimes it’s just enough to know I keep him on his toes,” spits Gareth bitterly of an ex-lover’s new boyfriend during ‘I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know’, while on ‘I Warned You: Do Not Make An Enemy Of Me’ Aleks wearily asks “But if this changed your life, did you have one before?”
But it’s not just the words that make Los Campesinos! so brilliant. Musically, they’ve always encompassed a sense of ordered chaos – squealing guitars and pounding drums contrasting with graceful violins and chiming glockenspiels, all delivered with energy to spare. And while there are tracks on here that wouldn’t sound too out of place on either of their previous albums, there’s also a definite sense that the band have pushed themselves to take their sound in different directions. ‘Plan A’ cranks up the noise to be the rawest thing they’ve ever done, while ‘Who Fell Asleep In’ is the complete opposite – the song’s tragic tale is underscored by a majestic, string-lead soundtrack to beautiful effect. However, if there’s one song that really demonstrates how far the band have come, it’s ‘The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future’ – a thoughtful, melancholy epic that juxtaposes bleakness and hope with heart-wrenching results. (As an aside, the song’s opening lines in particular have a definite significance for me.)
If, at this point, you need me to give you another reason to love Los Campesinos!, then I’d point you to their live shows. It’s here that their energy really comes into the fore – they give it everything they’ve got, and their fans respond in kind. The band’s most potent lyrics really do get an extra sense of gravity when there are hundreds of fans shouting along with them. I had the chance to see them in February at Fibbers in York, and I’m pleased to report that the new songs sound great live. My only minor complaint is that new member Kim isn’t quite as strong a vocalist as the now-departed Aleks was, but that didn’t really get in the way of my enjoyment of the band’s show.
It’s fair to say that Los Campesinos! do seem to be a love/hate proposition – if you love them then you adore them unconditionally, and if you hate them it’s with a passionate loathing. I could try to give you more reasons to love them, but that would ultimately just lead to me quoting Gareth’s lyrics some more and gushing about what they mean to me, so I’ll spare you any more self-indulgent bullshit. I will, however, say this – Los Campesinos have not only the benefit of a masterful chronicler of human emotions and relationships, but also a finely nuanced approach to their sound, whether it be chaotic or serene. The end result? An album that sets the bar for quality records in 2010, and a band that feel truly vital.