Has it really only been 3 and a half years since Los Campesinos! gave us Hold On Now, Youngster…? It feels like the Welsh collective has been cranking out sincerony (more on this term later) indie pop for much longer than that. Part of it is that LC! is one of the more polished bands we have running in the indie circuit. Gareth Campesinos (from here on, he’ll just be referred to as “Gareth”; this Ramones-esque shtick gets annoying after a while) is an interesting study in lyricism: on the one hand, he knows how to be silly and pseudo-grandiose, but on the other, he’s saying some real shit. While the albums that followed the band’s debut (2008’s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and 2010’s Romance is Boring) have sometimes suffered from too much of the former and not enough of the latter, it was always evident that Gareth knows how to craft an emotional set of words to pair with the normally cheery arrangements provided to him by the rest of the Campesinos.
And so here we arrive at their fourth album, Hello Sadness. It’s easily the best album album the band has done since HON,Y and it’s a good omen for the future, when the youth of previous days leaves the band’s collective heart. It’s a dark album, filled with death and suffering and, well, sadness. But it’s also a focused exploration of what it is that makes us strive through that very sadness. To say it’s motivational is silly, but maybe not far from accurate. It’s hard to take too much wisdom from a band that refuses to stop making songs with names like “Songs About Your Girlfriend”, but it’s hard to deny that there is a slight cheeriness to the morbid proceedings here. Think of it as the first rays of light at dawn, after the most miserable night of your life: at least the sun still rises in the east, and the hangover will soon fade.Los Campesinos! – By Your Hand
Let’s talk about the album’s strongest track, the single and opener “By Your Hand”. You could listen to the chorus and have this album all figured out: “By your hand is the only end I foresee/ I have been dreaming you’ve been dreaming about me”. A simple sentiment, yet the band’s tongue-in-cheek earnestness (that “sincerony” we named earlier) elevates it from Facebook status to something more: they believe it, and want listeners to want to believe it. There’s also a goofy spoken word section, because the band can’t really leave its roots as a candid indie pop band. It lasts so little that you can overlook it, if it’s not your kind of thing.
The aforementioned “Songs About Your Girlfriend” is actually a heartwarming account of being the ‘other man’ in a relationship of three; always the lover, never the one you fall in love with. It also contains the album’s most hilarious line: “And if you want a list of all her favourite bits/ The next time I am free, quite comprehensively/ I will scrawl them all down for you as an apology”. It’s this type of defeated humor that Gareth pulls off well as a songwriter, which in turn helps him gloss over his weaknesses (i.e. eliciting an emotionally crushing song).
Speaking of being defeated, the appropriately titled “Every Defeat A Divorce (Three Lions)” tackles one of the strongest pains a 20-30-something man can feel: a sports defeat. In this instance, Gareth channels his inner English soccer fan when talking about the national team (nicknamed the Three Lions for the badge the team wears on their jerseys), turning it into a heartbreak as heroic as that which stems from a significant other. It’s silly, it’s ridiculous, yet anyone who has invested themselves in something (be it a team, a girl, their career, etc) will understand the following sentiment: “If he hasn’t blown the whistle/ Then it isn’t quite the end.” Doomed optimism, you are a cruel mistress.
As has become evident by now, this is an album of contradictions. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they just seem whiny and foolhardy. The title track is the weakest on the album, lyrically, which is a shame because it’s backed by a rollicking bass-line and a clean guitar that demands better treatment. Instead, we get a chorus of “it’s only hope that springs eternal/ and that’s the reason why/ this dripping from my broken heart/ is never running dry” and a repeated line of “goodbye courage/ hello sadness, again”. Disappointing, because there is an EP’s worth of songs on Hello Sadness that would work to best represent Los Campesinos as a band long after their optimism fails them. As usual, they try hard and deserve better results, but until they focus their themes instead of complaining about being stuck in the middle between hope and despair, Los Campesinos will always be chasing the ghost of their debut album.
Written by Luis Paez-Pumar