Wednesday, 11 August 2010

REVIEW: Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring

I have been a Los Campesinos! fan since the early days of "Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP", although this time around with "Romance is Boring", the charming ditties ("there's red stains all over the place, but they're not blood, they're Cherry-ade") are exchanged for lyrics with more of a bite ("you could never kiss a Tory boy without wanting to cut off your tongue again.")

This latest offering (said to be a record "about the death and decay of the human body, lost love, mental breakdown, and football") sees the Cardiff-based band not patronisingly "all grown up", but rather fully realised. Such a vast spectrum of subject matter and Los Camp!'s hyperactive tendencies make for one helluva (at the risk of quoting Ronan Keating's 2000 hit) emotional rollercoaster. By the end of all 15 tracks you are left with a vaguely sore-but-satisfied heart. The record offers overwhelming depth of lyrical emotion and when the record leaked in its entirety, frontman Gareth himself proclaimed: "I put so much of myself into these songs and lyrics and it's nobody's right to take what little power we have over them, away from us. It really feels like ripping something out of my chest." "Romance is Boring" is also characterised by broad musical experimentation which spans well beyond previous efforts of "Hold On Now, Youngster" and "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed". However, despite this evolutionary move, the quirks that first endeared Los Campesinos! to their loyal following are not lost, with their trademark glockenspiel solos still thriving alongside harsher guitars and broader brass sections.

Album opener "Media Res" eases listeners in with a deceivingly mellow acoustic guitar, soothing violin, serene synth and our-old-friend Mr. Glockenspiel. The opening line - "Let's talk about you for a minute" - makes way for intensely relatable lyrics of that night we've all experienced when we were "far too fucked to drive, were the words that you imparted". Our reminiscing is cut short, however, when an ominous drumbeat kicks in following the mandatory glock-solo; accompanied by reverb-drenched vocals and sinister strings, Gareth's drawl leering "I'm leaving my body to science...drag my corpse to the airport." The instrument seems to erupt into chaos with the dust after the storm settled by rousing trumpets which would not be out of place on an Arcade Fire record.

This vibe-setter of an opening track leads into the first single off of the record, "There Are Listed Buildings". Here, the band unashamedly showcases their ultimately pop credentials with a wonderfully indulgent chorus of "ba ba ba ba", more akin to earlier "You! Me! Dancing!" and "My Year in Lists". Frantic bass-lines coupled with messy synths make for the perfect pick-me-up in the wretched winds of January. The title track of the record - "Romance is Boring" - shows the band drawing on grungier influences with filthy opening riff, making way for aptly angst-y cries of the chorus - "We're proving to each other that ROMANCE IS BOOOR-ING!" in a brilliantly bratty line that you will be humming all week long. Gareth's razor-sharp bluntness is at its best when confronting the subject of young love; when he admits "we are two ships that pass in the night, you and I, we are nothing alike", before the track literally screeches to a halt with an exasperated pant. I can empathise; my lungs are beginning to burn just writing this, as Los Campesinos! move at a magnificently merciless rate of knots, like a hurricane sweeping through small-town America.

True evidence of the band having been shredded at the edges comes in the form of "Plan A" which sees the septet at their rawest and most terrifying. Gareth and recently-departed Aleks Campesinos! urgently shriek their way though the majority of the 2:03 duration. This supposedly harebrained track, however, is grounded by the richness of the brass accompaniment which almost gives you the impression of a silent movie soundtrack. A steam trail hurtling towards a defenceless maiden, bound to the tracks. This is the defining feature of Los Campesinos!; their ability to conjure up an entire storyline and potent, palpable emotions from a few bars of music. Riffs and chords, verses and choruses.

The seven-piece do not prove themselves to be entirely sadistic, however. Track "200-102-Los Campesinos!" provides a temporary lull featuring vaguely haunting chimes juxtaposed with a tranquil, country strum of an acoustic guitar. Although these 54 seconds are not to be cherished as listeners are again swept off their feet wth "Straight In At 101". This is an implicit ode to the awkwardness of teenage sexuality as Gareth amusingly professes "feels like the build up takes forever, but you never touch my cock", nestled amongst kooky harmonies and cutesy handclaps. Another one of these benevolent interludes comes in the form of later "Heart Swells/101-1" comprising 46 seconds and offering an almost sci-fi vibe complete with spooky, echoing vocal. This calm is (you guessed it) short-lived as the next track explodes into the full-throttle madness of "I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know."

My personal favourite track from the album is "The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future", the first of their new material to surface on their blog, marking a decisive shift in style. The backbone here is formed with the suave murmur of a cello and the exceptional crash of guitar and glockenspiel during the climactic chorus. These dramatic choruses seem to mimic the undulating cadence of the sea itself. The lyrics thesmelves tell a heartbreaking tale of an unfortunate young girl, her desperation epitomised by Gareth's yell "she said one day to leave her, sand up to her shoulders, waiting for the tide to drag her to the ocean, to another sea' shore."

As the record draws to a close, a droll irony is found in the authority of the lyric "can we all please just calm the fuck down!" in "This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind." The record presently obeys as "Coda: A Burn Scar In The Shape Of The Sooner State" rolls around, with Gareth and Aleks' stark vocal - "I can't believe you chose the mountains every time that I chose the sea" - mixes with the seemingly harmonic instrumental, gradually spiralling into delightful dischord.

This second, chaotic LP from Los Campesinos! is one that you are sure to fall in love with, time and time again.

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