LOS CAMPESINOS! "WE ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ARE DOOMED" [Wichita Records -released October 13th]
"...having been touring the album constantly since its release in February, maybe the band are just getting tired of playing its songs"
Boy is my face red. Call it fate, but within a week of me posting that blog, the news was out that everyone-bar-Steven-Wells' favourite indiepopstars Los Campesinos! were releasing "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed", their second album of 2008. Given the aforementioned lack of new songs in their recent sets, the evolution displayed here is somewhat of a shock. For an album released only six months after their debut, We Are Beautiful... shows an astonishing amount of development - our little Campesinos! are growing up.
The album springs out of the gate with "Ways to Make it Through the Wall", a typically exuberant opener to rival the sonic sugar-rush of "Death to Los Campesinos!" - call and response synths and guitars ping across the speakers, while Ollie's drums rampage through the mix. It seems as if it's just another sunny day in Campesinos!-land. But wait a second, let's just check out those all-important opening lyrics, shall we?
"I think it's fair to say that I chose hopelessness/And inflicted it on the rest of us/But at least I've come to terms with my own mortality."
"You! Me! Dancing!" this is not.
"Ways..." perfectly showcases LC! 2.0 - the sugar content of their songs remains the same, but there's a caustic wit ("The guy singing all the sad songs died - oh well, I guess he was right!") that was absent from their debut. Likewise, the musical arrangements have a welcome sense of complexity - time and key signatures dart around - and it's a lot harder to tell when a chorus is going to come, making it all the more effective when the song's many refrains do kick in. Likewise, the lyrics of the stuttering-yet-swaggering "Miserabilia" bemoan post-relationship sentimentality - in much the same way "My Year in Lists" did - and sees Gareth "down on [his] knees next to urinals in garish Mexican restaurants", before jumping up to sneer contemptfully at the listener - "SHOUT AT THE WORLD BECAUSE THE WORLD DOESN'T LOVE YOU!"*
The last song written for Hold On Now, Youngster... was apparently "This Is How You Spell "HAHAHA We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux-Romantics"", and its driving rhythm and slower pace inform the new album's best songs. Prefaced by the ambient instrumental "Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky", "You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing" is the closest the band have ever come to a ballad - Gareth treats his glockenspiel with more care than it was ever given on the first album, and there's even an tenderly-strummed acoustic guitar propping up the mix - and even when the song steps up a gear three and a half minutes in, it's still more subdued than anything that came before. Lyrically, the track compares a break-up to "a soft-porn version of the end of the world", having pleaded with his sweetheart to "dump me side of the road if I'm too annoying", and by the time the track comes to its close, with the same delayed guitar sounds it started with, you can't help but take pity on poor Gareth. It's the most genuinely affecting moment in the LC! catalogue to date, and will hopefully be a direction they pursue in the future.
"Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1", meanwhile, comes across like a missing track from the most recent WHY? album (the wonderful Alopecia) - the song's groove (yes, really - an LC! song has a groove!) is like a laid-back version of "This Is How You Spell...", while Gareth and Aleks's vocals veer closer to Yoni Wolf's pseudo-hip-hop cadences, confronting an offensive ex with the classic question - "Do you kiss your mummy's lips with that mouth?"
That said, the album's true highlight is its title track, which takes what you might call the Los Campesinos! formula and refines it to the point of perfection. It's here that most of the album's most repeatable lines come - "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, fondness makes the absence longer", "We kid ourselves there's future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future" - but these six looooong months on from the debut, it's easy to tell how much better the band are as musicans; rather than giving it their all in every second of every song, everyone seems to know when to hold back and when to break out the party poppers and yell "SURPRISE!". Likewise, Gareth's lyrics have been honed down - gone are the slightly immature and self-conscious references to "a final, fatal LiveJournal entry" or dancing to Bis - with an added sense of world-weariness that comes with touring the globe, tempering even the song's more tongue-in-cheek lines. "I cannot emphasise enough that my body is a badly-designed, poorly-put-together vessel harbouring these diminished, so-called 'vital' organs", he complains, with increasing rage, before letting loose an almost-blood-curdling scream: "I HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST! I HOPE MY HEART GOES FIRST!" I'm sorry, what was that? Final, fatal what?
Admittedly, a couple of tracks border on self-parody - with its almost-obligatory references to punctuation and crap novellas, it sounds like the band were barely trying when they wrote "The End of the Asterisk", while "Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time" is a two-minute, two-part 'epic' which is a bold and admirable experiment in theory, albeit one that doesn't quite come together in practise - but the album coheres surprisingly well, especially given it's brief gestation period. We Are Beautiful... is a short and sweet stereo attack; compared with Hold On Now, Youngster's final track proper "Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks", which finished with the kind of crowd-pleasing chant that left you almost too satisfied with the way it ended, the frenetic "All Your Kayfabe Friends" finishes so abruptly that you'll think your copy of the CD is faulty, meaning that all you want to do is put it on again and see what you missed the last time around.
If Hold On Now, Youngster... flirted with classic status - not only did it top my year-end list after the first time I heard it, but it already made its way to my all-time chart - We Are Beautiful... laughs in the face of the sophomore slump, simply by arriving before speculation about what they'd do next could take place. Admittedly, it's a less instantly accessible collection than its predecessor, but this is no bad thing whatsoever; its ten tracks reveal themselves better over repeated listens - something I never thought I'd be able to say about Los Campesinos! As I said, not all the songs quite stand up, but the ones that do show an impressive step forward for a band who are even more restless than their songs suggest.
*OK, maybe I was exaggerating about the quotability of the lyrics, but the majority of the best lyrics here don't owe themselves to being condensed into simple five-word phrases. My current favourite lyrics from the album have to be from "It's Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song for the Other Kurt)", a track which begins with Gareth "kissing a girl for class war" and culminates in this scenario: "I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend - who by the way I'm still in love with - sucking the face of some pretty boy, with my favourite band's most popular song in the background. This situation then compels him to ask the ultimate hipster pay-off - "Is it wrong that I can't decide which bothers me most?"
...obviously I'm not going to upload any of the tracks at this early point in time, so here's what you might call a "rarity" - their version of Black Flag's "Police Story", from the International Tweexcore Underground EP. Suffice to say, none of the new album sounds anything like this.