POSTED BY: MEGAN
No Blues, Los Campesinos!’ s fifth album, is like all new LC! albums – especially for those fans so dedicated to their early stuff (from Hold On Now, Youngster to Romance Is Boring) – in that it takes a while to settle with and form a proper opinion on. 2011’s Hello Sadness saw the band step onto a more downbeat and dark path than listeners had been used to; however, unlike Hello Sadness, for me No Blues seems a lot less forced when it comes to choruses and melodies, and in general it sounds like the band have settled into their current line-up on this fifth album much more than they did back in 2011.
Famous for their varied instrumentation, noise-pop and post-rock leanings and use of melody upon melody, this album to me seems more clear in its layers. The album opens with “For Flotsam”, with haunting background synths and Gareth Campesinos!’s vocals breaking out into percussion. It’s a punchy beginning, diving straight into the chorus (like Hello Sadness opener “By Your Hand “), but somehow it already makes No Blues feel slower and more thought-out than its predecessor, a feeling that persists right through to the closing “Selling Rope (Swan Dive Into The Estuary). This format for the structure of the songs, with the introductions fading in first, applies to most the ‘big’ tracks in No Blues, the ones you imagine will be future singles or fan favourites: “For Flotsam”, “What Death Leaves Behind”, “Cemetery Gaits”, “As Lucerne/The Low”, “Let it Spill”, and it’s a technique that works effectively. From the pre-album releases of “What Death Leaves Behind” and “Avocado, Baby” we should have seen this coming; it’s a new sound, not entirely different from the old one, but more refined and considered. Speaking of this new concentrated sound, Gareth has said it was “a decision we thought we made going into Hello Sadness, when in reality it turned out not to be. We’ve been aiming to do this for a while”.
Overall, it all feels a bit lighter than Hello Sadness and more grown up than Romance is Boring and the band’s earlier material. If the likes of their 2006-2009 stuff is an angsty teenager, then Hello Sadness and No Blues are troubled twenty year olds, in the midst of quarter-life crises. It’s not as raw, but it’s still there.
Not every track on the album sticks by this structure and sound though; “A Portrait of A Trequartista As A Young Man” is a lot more acoustically-led, with acoustic guitar and piano sounds at the fore, offering a bit of variation, whilst the balladesque “Glue Me”, which is the weakest and most lacklustre song on the album, but still the simplistic hook of “I’ll be gloomy/‘til they glue me/in the arms of she who loves me/’til the rats and worms/are all interned/at least five feet above we” has some sincerity and weight to it. Penultimate track “The Time Before the Last Time” will become, in my opinion, one of the more underrated tracks on the album; the shortest on the album, which doesn’t kick in properly until over half way through, with the drawn out background vocals proving difficult to decipher as anything more than just a mumbled melody upon a first listen. Listen closer though, and you can hear the remnants of a dying relationship being played out lyrically as they croon “One last meal, one last gesture/cheapest wine, second best restaurant/ Clapperboard of two pork chops/ Credits roll before the scene stops”.
It is these kind of nihilistic lyrics that have been focused on by reviews, and as Gareth pointed out on Twitter “these LC! reviews focus on me and the lyrics, such is the nature of the narrative, and subsequently Tom [Campesinos!] [and his songwriting] doesn’t get singled out for praise anywhere near as much as he deserves”. Of course the album, like all those before it, is a collaboration of the two, and an excellent job has been done by both… but you have to admit that, lyrically, No Blues is very special.
We have the typically hyperbolic and sophisticated language used in Los Campesinos!’ lyrics, only No Blues seems to have stepped it up a notch. For example, in “Cemetery Gaits”: “I shimmy up the cenotaph/Regale with my melancholy” then within the very next line, Gareth delivers the fantastic imagery of “two words upon my headstone, please/don’t need date or name, just ‘Sad Story’’’. This, mixed with a football pun in nearly every song (that I won’t even pretend to understand) and similes such as “you say you’re an old cassette tape that has gone and split it’s spool/you’re far more like a wet cardboard tube on this nightclub floor” that gives Los Camp the right mix between high-brow references and down-to-earthiness. And in effect, this album is a question about the inevitably of death and sadness, but with the gritty bits of life slotted in between. Despite so much imagery of death and decay, No Blues really lives up to its name, dwelling upon such miserabilia in a more tongue-in-cheek and accepting tone of ‘shit happens’ than anything else (with some amazing sing-along lines that will stick in your head for days).
If you haven’t listened to Los Campesinos! before then I recommend No Blues as a starting point; it’s technically the best album they have ever produced. Giving this album a score is hard, because LC! are divisive as anything, and are certainly not the same band that emerged in 2006 (in terms of personnel or in any other sense). The potential audience is split; you will either have barely listened to them (or not at all), or you will know every single track on every single record. This album will do the same; even if fans don’t love it or the band themselves as much as they used to, they will stick by it, but most importantly they will have an opinion on it. What this band does when they release a new album means something those people. And as long as Los Camp keep making music that makes people react like that, doing something a bit different but still keeping the old elements there, then in my books they have done a good job.
Trying not to be pressured by the rave reviews of The Master is hard: almost all the critics love it with everything from Little White Lies giving it a straight 5/5/5 rating to Total Film calling it the ‘boldest American film of the year’. In case you’ve been living on a hype-free Mars, Paul Thomas Anderson’s sixth film to date takes post-war PTSD sufferer and general shambles of a man Freddie Quell (Joaquin Pheonix) and stows him away on a boat with Lancaster Dodd (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the writer of ‘The Cause’ and semi-cult leader. Quell becomes more entangled with the world of The Cause and Dodd as its Master as we learn more about the cult’s beliefs and challenges it faces from non-believers and cult members alike. As analogies for Scientology go, this one is not exactly subtle.
I’d call The Master an Emperor’s New Clothes film. It will split audiences, not only in terms of whether or not they liked it, but whether or not they admit to what extent they understood it (I’d put The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Donnie Darko and Anderson’s earlier work There Will Be Blood in this genre I’ve pretty much just made up). Here’s the thing- you can’t deny that The Master is trying to be really clever, and because the critics have hyped it so much there is the feeling that it must be really clever. So when you are watching it and thinking ‘What the hell just happened and why is everyone naked?’, there is the tendency to feel like it must be you who is missing something. That’s what I mean by a split audience: there will be people who will happily admit ‘I didn’t understand all of that’ and those who pretend they did, like seeing the Emperor’s New Clothes.
Or maybe I am missing something, maybe there are people out there who ‘got’ it totally. Maybe I’m a bit thick. Maybe you aren’t supposed to understand it. Who knows? This isn’t to say I didn’t like The Master, I just don’t think I understood it all after one viewing. The running themes of post-traumatic stress, violence and cult psychology lend to a brilliant atmosphere in the film in which polite conversations, cult exercises, lunches, sex, marriage are all tools in a twisted relationship between all the cult’s members. When this is placed in a 1950’s setting of almost too perfect Mad Men style clothes and set, coupled with absolutely beautiful cinematography, it is all the more jarring and creates a kind of hyper unreal slant on reality.
Let’s not forget the acting quality. Joaquin Pheonix (back on form after the beardy-weirdy real-or-fake rap career I’m Still Here phase) approaches the character of Freddy with just about the right level of weird. He has such an expressive face, which captures the range of trauma and violence the character needs. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is charismatic as the eponymous Master and has some of the most intriguing lines in the film, only twice losing his charming exterior to reveal someone more explosive. The truly terrific performance in the film though is of Dodd’s wife Peggy (Amy Adams), whose controlling and dominating nature seeps through, suggesting that behind every great man (or cult leader) there is an even greater woman.
If you think you can explain all of The Master to me, I’d like to hear from you
Based on a ‘true story’ (everybody roll your eyes and take it with a pinch of Hollywood salt), Lawless is a Depression-era gangster film-centered around the three legendary Bondurant brothers Jack (Shia LaBeouf), Howard (Jason Clarke) and Forrest (Tom Hardy). Fuelled by the belief that they are invincible since surviving an illness which killed their parents, they rule the prohibited moonshine bootlegging business until Special Deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) steps on to the scene. So far then, we are treading on themes already covered in The Untouchables and the original Scarface, but relocated to a more of a deep south backdrop. So what should Lawless have that these films don’t?
As Forrest’s character says early on in the film, "It is not the violence that sets a man apart; it’s the distance he’s prepared to go". This sums up the film perfectly; it tries to show just how lawless these times are with extreme acts of violence on both the bootleggers and the authorities who try and get in their way. But it falls short because (perhaps I’m being cynical here), I’ve got so used to violent films at it really is a case of ‘just another guy getting his balls chopped off’. All of its plotlines are based on macho brawls that end up being cliches: from the runt-of-the-litter scenarios that Jack has to overcome to the no-nonsense Chicago gangster Floyd Banner (Gary Oldman), these are all variations of stories we have seen before.
The one character who stands out though is that of the eldest brother Forrest. Still beefed up from his role as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, Hardy is proving to be another formidable contender in the contemporary leading man stakes a la Gosling and Fassbender. He shows his character to be both intimidating enough for the police to be afraid of him, but also emotionally detached and even a bit socially awkward. My only quibble is, as with his portrayal Bane, the accent Hardy uses means it’s easier to mistake his line and just hear monosyllabic grunts (not to mention when he purposefully growls, that is just downright laughable).
Nonetheless, his is definitely the character you are most intrigued by and, in comparison, Forrest makes the other brothers seem like add-ons to fill the film out. And that leads me to another criticism; I know this film is about the boys but the female storylines just aren’t expanded on enough. For instance, there is no repercussions of Bertha’s (Mia Wasikowska) rebellion from the church and her relationship with her father is never properly explored. It’s like director John Hillcoat and writer Nick Cave (yes, that one) tried to cram too much into the the film at the beginning but realised it’s too long and cut it short. In fact, the whole film ends too abruptly and is ham-fisted in its conclusion. Perhaps there is a director’s cut somewhere in an editing room which gives the whole film time to breath.
Stylistically and acting-wise though, the film is top notch. The murky colour scheme of greys and browns is similar to Hillcoat’s previous film The Road, adding to the gloom and giving Lawless a period authenticity. Shia La Boeuf is back to playing more of a lose character, similar to the one he played so long ago in Holes, which suits him far more than his action hero stint in the Transformers franchise. Guy Pearce still remains one of my favourite and most underrated actors as he is simply so malleable and no two characters played by him are ever too similar, whilst Jessica Chastain who pulls off the challenge of holding her own next to Tom Hardy. Lawless may have some flaws, but on the whole it is not a bad film. It’s just one that you might feel like you’ve seen a handful of times before.
I’ve written reviews whilst not entirely sober, now it’s time for me to write a review of five days for which I was sober for about an hour. Because Leeds Festival is one that requires a drink. It’s as infamous nowadays for its ‘let’s go fucking mental’ ladishness (example: a guy who drank his own piss, vomit and had a gram of ketin a line before being carted off) as it is famous for its top-tier headliners. It is more of a drink all day and all night festival than say, the laidback Latitude, and you do have to accept that you will encounter some wankers in wifebeaters and flat peaks drinking Stella. Plus (unpopular Tumblr opinion here) but I don’t mind a decent DJ set or some dubstep, so the Relentless Tent and Picadilly Party seem more worthwhile to me than a standard night out on the town. When it comes to the Leeds Fest nightlife, my view on this is that it’s fine to go out until 5AM and get completely sozzled as long as you still manage to see some music too (and not be hungover lying in your tent as your favourite band are on). Because who wants to pay upwards of £200 and not see a single band?
I think I got the balance right this year and saw around twenty acts, so let’s talk music. This year was a real mixed bag of genres for me; Friday began with Tribes, who impressed me earlier this year on the NME Tour and held their own in the NME/Radio One Tent, with all the sing along power of bigger bands like The Cribs. Some friends could not stop going on about The Skints so I went along and was pleasantly suprised to find that they were less reggae than I’d heard they were (not my thing) and more ska (bit more my thing). The Lock Up Stage was pretty packed with a nice, chilled, dancing crowd. More dance moves ensued at SBTRKT, who you can make as many jokes about the London Producer just pressing keys on a laptop but the singing and live drums really shows he and collaborator Sampha can use their instruments live too. I got dragged to Gallows as well, who definitely were not my thing and I can’t feel like I can judge their performance at all without knowing anything about that genre of music. Somehow, I also managed to take a nap during them too whilst having a cigarette break (it had been a heavy night before). Unfortunately I missed The Black Keys but I was all ready to see Foo Fighters who you can’t deny have some classic hits. We stuck around for the beginning, but nearly three hours was pushing it for me, especially when I am not a hardcore fan. Instead, I hopped over to Justice whose set was absolutely amazing. They segued perfectly from track to track, playing extended versions of “Civilization” and “We Are Your Friends”. They may not be legends on the level of Foo Fighters, but if you’re in the mood for throwing shapes, then the French duo are a much better act to see.
Onto Saturday, which started with Friends, a band who I only knew one song by but are now intrigued to listen to a lot more. Crystal Castles on the main stage played as well as they have any other year, but suit the festival’s tent a lot more in my opinion. The act that has been on repeat on my headphones all summer, Alt-J, filled the Festival Republic stage and lived up the their hype in what can best be described as indie with a bit of a post-dubstep-friendly bass (I feel my hipster levels rising as I type that). After catching the tail end of Bombay Bicycle Club, who treated us to a few new singles, my plan was to split half my time between the clashing headliners of The Maccabees and The Cure. But after an hour of the latter’s set a riled by “Friday I’m In Love”, I decided to stay for the duration. As a friend pointed out, you can see The Maccabees anytime but The Cure are a once-in-a-lifetime band. Even though I only knew their greatest hits, at no point was I bored because whilst they may be ageing, they can all play to perfection.
Quicker than expected it was Sunday, the final day of music. Despite the fact it was midday after four straight days of alcohol, I was up and raring to go by midday for one of my favourite bands Los Campesinos!. They seemed pretty chuffed to be on the Main Stage (well, as chuffed as Gareth Campesinos! can possibly manage) but the crowd was pretty sparse at this time. Dry The River were decent and ideal for just sitting and listening to after a long weekend. I don’t know what to think of Mystery Jets' new Americana look for their new album, however I don’t think it made much difference to the style of their music by the few songs I heard. But why change something that already works, and their classic songs were as faultless as ever. Unfortunately I didn’t rep my local Nottingham acts Jake Bugg and Dog Is Dead thanks to an almightly downpour on the way back to camp, but they seem to being going places outside of the Midlands so watch out for them. As always, I went along to The Vaccines with everybody else, and as always I fail to see what all the fuss is about. They do have some good pop songs but they seem to merge into one long shout-a-long chorus to me. Can someone please enlighten me as to what I am missing? For a bit of a change, I saw Azealia Banks and her energy on the Dance Stage was fantastic; I felt instantly more badass just being around her. Of course the crowd went mental for “212” and she wouldn’t be someone I would pay to see but definitely catch her if you get the chance. With a long car journey home that night, and pre-empting the five day hangover, I had just enough time to see The Cribs. As a Wakefield band, the Jarmans clearly stated their love for Leeds Fest who supported them from the start and it really showed through in their set. I know understand what separates them from many other similar bands because their live shows just blow you away. They deserve to be headlining the Main Stage, no question.
And so there ends my extended weekend. Of course, there are a handful of other bands I wished I’d seen, but I would much rather be havfing fun on the campsite as well than running round with a programme like a headless chicken. I think I got my money’s worth, now excuse me whilst I spend another day recovering with my duvet and waiting for next year.