Los Campesinos! Embraces Sadnesses

Los Campesinos! -- 'Hello, Sadness' -- Arts & Crafts Records -- 4.5 STARS

Courtesy Arts & Crafts Records

How many musicians does it take to make a successful album? Maybe four if you consider such legends as the Beatles and the Who. Two, if you’re thinking Simon and Garfunkel. But take seven ambitious kids from Wales, call them peasants, slap an exclamation mark at the end, and you have Los Campesinos!, a now critically acclaimed indie rock group that has released three excellent albums between 2008 and 2010. The members themselves are quirky—evidenced by their changing their legal last names to Campesinos!, not kidding—but their angry youth and out-there style has done nothing but contribute to the overall success of the sarcastic and witty lyrics of past tracks. Their fourth album, “Hello Sadness,” manages to capitalize on the high promise of its predecessors’ buoyant footsteps.

With previous albums titled “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” and “Romance is Boring,” “Hello Sadness” continues from the very beginning with the self-deprecating, faux-romantic tones for which the Cardiff-based band is known. “By Your Hand” kicks off the album with descriptions of a complicated, twisted relationship with the “cruel mistress” fate. Apparently a bitch at heart, she creates an enticing sense of security only to eventually “vomit down [your] rental tux“ and screw up your life. Lead singer Gareth Campesinos! belts out sardonic lyrics with the occasional assistance of his mates, thus creating a dynamic shift between despair and an echoing, dissatisfied crowd. Lighthearted, airy keyboard and softly rumbling drums clash with the cynical lyrics and highlights the complexity of the relationship. Witty and at times weird, this first track gives a nice preview of what is to come.

At its core, “Hello Sadness” is a bit manic-depressive. In one track, upbeat instrumentals and choral vocals simulate the experience of a caffeine overdose. Then, in a dramatic shift, the high is gone, the crash is hard, and the next song’s tone is more melancholic. On “The Black Bird, the Dark Slope,” charged electric guitar riffs join quick-paced drums and sharp, intermittent bursts of violin. All the while, lyrics such as “This black bird wants to rip me limb from limb” remind us that the song is not as happy-go-lucky as the instruments suggest. On the other end of the spectrum, “Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt. II,” is perhaps the album’s best combination of solemn musical undertones and disenchanted lyrics. Hypnotic and understated, the breakneck speed of earlier tracks is replaced by a pleasantly numbing experience evoked by softly rising keyboard, carefully spaced high-pitched strums of guitar, and low rolling drums. This dreaminess is heightened by the echoes of female vocals but becomes even more rhythmically soothing when the lyrics “As the light leaves, the dark sees” repeat over and over again, tapering off into a relaxed, somber end to song and album.

Los Campesinos! writes lyrics that stay in a happy cloud of angst and sarcasm while this emotional tug of war is enacted by the instrumentals. By remaining static in tone and allowing the instrumental bodies to create a whimsically dynamic setting, the lyrics reach higher, more poignant levels. There are times when some lyrics delve so far into the bizarre that they seem like unnecessary additions to an otherwise solid album. But these instances are so few and far between, and so heavily outweighed by lyrics such as “Your tongue the tide, your lips the shore, I am the jetsam overboard / goodbye courage,” that the low-grade choices are easily ignored.

Ellen, Gareth, Neil, Tom, Kim, Rob, and Jason—these are the faces of Los Campesinos!, the parents of the multifaceted yet logically grounded “Hello Sadness.” These are musicians who know their style, know their sound, and know how to manipulate both so that neither becomes tired and old. Not too depressing, and definitely not at all bubbly, “Hello Sadness” is a continuation of the group’s dark, anti-romantic view of life and a great release from a group that is as skilled as it is large.



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