The fact that Los Campesinos! is on the cusp of releasing its fifth album, all of which have been adored critically and garnered the band a more than healthy and loyal following, may be surprising to many of those who encountered its first collections of wry, messy, hyperactive songs.
But in reality, the group of Welsh indie exclamationists has become workhorses of its trade, producing a consistent stream of catchy, intelligent, sing-along indie-pop that is as personal as it is impressive.
No Blues is no exception to the rule. Like Hello Sadness before it, the new album from Los Campesinos! follows a trajectory of musical maturity and somehow more pointed, more hilarious, and wittier songwriting. The personal angst is still there, and the band’s “breakup is death” paradigm is as effective an engine as ever.
The album title is taken from the lyric, “There is no blues that could sound as heartfelt as mine,” giving an out of context, quasi premise to No Blues. This cheeky inversion of meaning is probably the easiest way to describe the central ethos of the six-piece indie-pop group of out of Cardiff.
Its musical tonalities hover around calculated, driving indie rock and an almost manic pop; it’s anything but dour. But lead man Gareth Campesinos! laces these jumpy, catchy tracks with the most sardonic and honest fillings of doom, death, heartbreak, and football.
The album begins with a volley of tumultuous, near anthemic tracks of spritely guitar and synth work and booming choruses, and journeys through highs and lows of melody and tone.
At 10 tracks, No Blues might seem short, but it may be the most musically complete work the group has produced yet. Opener “For Flotsam” negates its title’s air of destructive, seabed-bound doom in a wide-eyed exclamation of love and lust: “Knees knocking and blood flowing so I want you to know that I want to.” Back end track “Let it Spill” is the most straightforward song on the album, but still brings LC!’s gloomy charm with jangly strumming and a cruising-speed churn.
The first track to get a video, aptly titled “Avocado, Baby,” is the silliest and one of the catchiest songs the group has produced; it’s reminiscent of “Miserabilia” in its absurd effectiveness. Roman mythology allusions and cheerleader refrain included, the flowing guitar melodies, drum breakdowns, and bullhorn choruses are a recipe for crowd favoritism.
Los Campesinos!’ propensity for outwitting and out-thinking is at its finest; No Blues is the type of album that will reward the reader, as careful attention will reveal word wizardry that may initially seem awkward, but will unveil hidden meaning, double entendre, and humoristic allusion.
You don’t even need a lyric sheet to chuckle at song titles like “Cemetary Gaits” and “The Portrait of the Trequartista as a Young Man” and realize what you’re in for—a dictionary might be helpful—but you probably will need one to navigate the rest of the album.
On “What Death Leaves Behind,” Gareth labels himself a portmanteau right after creating one, and describes his relationship as tautology (which can be both good and bad), all within about 30 seconds or so.
If enough time is taken, one can expect to be rewarded with amusing and impressive wordplay at its most refined.
While there are certainly old tricks at use on No Blues, what makes it excel are the fresh and variant tweaks that have been brought to the table. For the first time, LC! has finally created a ballad that is cohesive on all fronts, both lyrically honest and musically sharp. Not to slight older tracks like “Coda: A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Show Me State” or “To Tundra,” but the No Blues cut “Glue Me” delivers in a way that no Campesinos! song has yet.
No Blues doesn’t mark a big shift in the sound or styling of the band, but it does see the group more confident and more comfortable with itself. Tom Campesinos!’ musical composition and production (along with John Goodmanson, who has worked on so many LC! albums that he may as well change his last name like the rest of the group) is refined, sharp, and dynamic.
Gareth, miles away from his glockenspiel days, has emerged as an able singer and a wordsmith few can match today. Los Campesinos! has found the formula that works and is going to keep on it, and that’s a great thing. No Blues is quintessential Los Campesinos!; fans will love it and the uninitiated may as well succumb, as LC! is in the business of wrenching its way into your head and staying there.
Los Campesinos! – No Blues tracklist:
- “For Flotsam”
- “What Death Leaves Behind”
- “A Portrait of The Trequartista As A Young Man”
- “Cemetary Gaits”
- “Glue Me”
- “As Lucerne/The Low”
- “Avocado, Baby”
- “Let it Spill”
- “The Time Before the Liast Time”
- “Selling Rope (Swan Dive to Estuary)”