It is sometimes hard to believe that over the three years following Los Campesinos’ spunky, chime-filled twee pop release of “Hold On Now Youngster,” they have spiraled into the melancholic power rock haze of their newest album “Hello Sadness.” The descent, which has more to do with mood than quality, was not sudden.
Those taking notes on Los Campesinos!’s track record will find clues of the band’s increasingly chronic case of the blues on the albums in between “Youngster” and “Sadness:” songs about bleeding lips and suicidal anorexics populated both 2008’s “We Are Beautiful, We are Doomed” and the more recent “Romance is Boring.” But it still always comes as a surprise to think back to those days of glittering tweexcore and wonder what exactly happened.
If we’re looking for a scapegoat, we might blame producer John Goodmanson, whose résumé includes work with other melancholics like Blonde Redhead — but that doesn’t seem quite fair, since he’s probably also to blame for the deliciously low-fi, Pavement-esque squeal that has become synonymous with Los Campesinos!’s post-Youngster discography.
At any rate, Los Campesinos! must be happy — or at least pleasantly depressed — with Goodmanson, since they joined with him again to craft “Hello Sadness.” The album starts off with an unassuming mix of synthesizer, drums and a few keyboard chords that jaunt along until they suddenly swell into a crashing chorus that rolls out over some characteristically power-pop clap beats. But it’s all a sort of ruse.
Despite the ecstatic entrance, the song — and the rest of the album — eventually settle into the lyrical confessions of Gareth Campesinos! On the first track, he wants to tell us about a drunken make-out session that ended in a girl voming her trom all over his rental tux. Later, in “Baby I’ve Got the Death Rattle,” he’ll worry about going to the palmist only to find an absence of life lines, heart lines — lines in general, which must be an uncomfortable position for a lyricist to find himself in.
Clearly, Gareth is a songwriter of the abject, but sometimes he waxes a little melodramatic. On “The Black Bird, The Black Slope,” for instance, he describes a crow feasting on his guts — an image that seems to connote the romantic suffering we all endured during middle school dances rather than the genuine feeling of existential crisis, which he’s aiming for.
In fact, that entire track is a low-point of the album. With its chugging guitars and ooing-and-ahing back-up vocals by Kim Campesinos!, the effort comes across as a bad imitation of Texas alt-teen rock — you know, like something Taking Back Sunday might have written when they were seventeen.
But the tried-and-true Los Campesinos! fans out there shouldn’t be too discouraged — so long as you know how to use your iPod’s skip button. There’s the chiming, spitting “Songs About Your Girlfriend.” Or the apocalyptic “Hate for the Island,” which fantasizes about the entirety of England sinking into the sea while a low-fi tundra gently rolls underneath Gareth’s meditative rambling. True, there’s a lot less twee here, but maybe a little less twee is what everybody needs.