Album: Kindle A Flame In Her Heart/The Holly And The IvyArtist: Los Campesinos!Song: The Holly And The IvyPlays: 2,529
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.
Watch: Los Campesinos! - Avocado, Baby: Our review of LC!’s fifth album will be landing soon, but in the meantime, here’s the band’s brand-spanking new video for what’s quite possibly one of the singles of the year, “Avocado, Baby”. Props for making it a single-take tracking shot that Hitchcock would be proud of.
Do you remember the first time? Well do you? And why did you choose them? Was it the drink or the time of year, or the position of the planets? Or was it just their hair?
To me, beauty in music can come in a form of ways; whether it’s the first time you heard that song, the people you were with and the memories attached, or whether it’s the simple gorgeous construction of a track, both musically and lyrically. For me, the beauty of the songs I’ve selected lies in both. The speed in which we as a society consume music today means that for these songs, they’ve already stood the test of time in my mind and will most likely continue to, cliche and all.
Los Campesinos! – We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed
No matter how many times your fourteen year old self jumps back out for a few minutes of immaturity and borderline-twee indie, Los Campesinos!’s first two records don’t sound dated and that’s because the maturity of the lyrical content bounced off the juvenile feel of the music behind it in a way I’ve not enjoyed since Johnny Marr’s intricate, feel-good guitar lines linked up with Morrissey’s darkly genius wordplay. “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” is the weary knowledge of love and post-adolescence in itself in a way that’s only as aged as its listener and although it’s a somewhat sinister beauty, it’s beauty all the same.
65DaysOfStatic – Radio Protector
Sometimes it’s the ‘hit’. That one that turns you around to a band and to a series of memories that are ingrained in your mind until someone’s singing Reuben by a campfire in the rain. 65DaysOfStatic for me have been a reason to miss the last train home, a reason to venture out into the suburbs to see friends you’re scared of losing touch with, a reason to stand up after that box of wine’s finished and get drenched in torrential rain in a field in the Midlands and a reason to stay at home listening to records alike. “Radio Protector” is the centre-point of all of this for me. It’s slow build from delicate piano through to the powerful beast it grows into is what beauty feels like when it pumps through every vein in your body and takes over.
Sigur Ros – Hoppipolla
That the BBC chose this to be the theme song for David Attenborough’s Planet Earth is no clichéd accident. Planet Earth was a feast for the senses and the addition of Sigur Ros’ track created something beyond that. It’s possible to enter moments of nirvana with the help of this band, and the climax of this song is as good as (not that the use is condoned) any street medicine out there. To leave this out would be to leave a gaping hole in a list that by its very nature, was made for this track.
LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends
“To tell the truth, this could be the last time.” Sometimes beauty hurts to hear, regardless of how pretentious that may sound. Someone else wrote the reasons that this may be the best song of the noughties and regardless of whether they’re right (they are), the instant joy that this song creates in me, mixed with the acute awareness of its lyrical content earns it a space in almost every list I’ll ever write.
Snow Patrol – Open Your Eyes
Sometimes it’s the song you know you shouldn’t love but you’ll still listen to and scream along with friends to regardless of the noise complain that awaits you in the morning. As well as the obvious theme that runs throughout Snow Patrol’s back-catalogue, love, there’s a feeling of camaraderie in “Open Your Eyes”; albeit somewhat Brokeback Mountain-esque. As with LCD Soundsystem, there’s a simplicity to its structure that gains in power throughout, culminating in the kind of arena rock sound that Snow Patrol often strived for when they weren’t toying with the kind of tracks Leona Lewis could cover, before the gentle last “All this feels strange and untrue, and I won’t waste a minute without you.”
NO BLUES by Los Campesinos!
Bethesda (North Wales), June 2013
Produced by: John Goodmanson & Tom Campesinos!
October 2013 on Heart Swells / Turnstile / Wichita Recordings
Gareth, Jason, Kim, Neil, Rob, Tom
WHAT DEATH LEAVES BEHIND
A PORTRAIT OF THE TREQUARTISTA AS A YOUNG MAN
AS LUCERNE / THE LOW
LET IT SPILL
THE TIME BEFORE THE LAST TIME
SELLING ROPE (SWAN DIVE TO ESTUARY)
PRE-ORDER NOW TO RECEIVE THE ALBUM EARLY
A well overdue update on how things are going in the studio:
Very well, thank you very much.
It’s mad to think we’re recording our fifth album. 6 years ago we went to Toronto to make number one, ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’, in what was, with hindsight, quite an ordeal, and now we find ourselves in equally glamorous Bethesda, North Wales, making number 5.
Bethesda is the perfect location for us to be recording. We prefer to record somewhere reasonably isolated, and where we can stay onsite. The nature of the way we record means there will inevitably be days where you have no recording duties to carry out, but it’s nice to still be ever so close to the studio, so you can constantly pop your head into the control room to see what’s going on. The studio is located about a 10 minute walk from the highstreet, so daily strolls there are a must. Bethesda is a quiet, working class, Welsh-speaking town and I’ve really taken to it. Good, honest people and decent pubs.
We’ve 10 more days of recording, and I feel like we’re keeping to schedule better than we ever have before. Usually we find ourselves scrambling and panicking the last couple of days, but there’s no reason that should be the case this time. That’ll mean we’ve more time to work on the final flourishes of songs. Backing vocals, percussion and any other frivolities that might spring to mind. With ‘Hello Sadness’ I recall us finishing off group vocals as we were loading the van ready to leave. No need for that this time.
Personally, this is the most I’ve enjoyed any recording experience. Obviously it helps that the Confederations Cup and Big Brother have started now, and we’ve had Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice too, but the whole living arrangement and the atmosphere within the band has been conducive to great times. I’ve nearly finished writing lyrics for all the songs too. I never start writing before we’re in the studio, because I feel like a phoney if I’m creating ‘art’ under any motivation other than time pressure. I know that’s not ideal. But the songs are really fucking strong, and sounding huge, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to write for them.
I’d like nothing more than to list off songtitles, as that’s the sort of thing that makes this seem REAL, but we need to drip-feed this stuff, so here’s a couple of acronyms for the time being, of songs that I’ve already recorded the vocals for and are near completion - ‘TTBTLT’ & ‘A, B’.
After 6 years of playing on stage together, with over 450 shows notched into our collective bedposts and 1 previous (failed) attempt at a live recording in Seattle, ‘A Good Night For A Fistfight’ becomes our (Los Campesinos!) first official Live Album.
On December 15th, 2012 at Islington Assembly Hall, London, we played a 21-song set in front of a sold-out crowd of 800 people to both celebrate our time with and mourn the departure of Ellen Campesinos! as a member. It also marked the first time we were joined onstage by Aleks Campesinos! since her departure from the band to return to her studies, 3 years ago.
Peppered with charming mistakes onstage and unfunny heckles from a dangerously drunken crowd, the recording is an unedited 91-minute (!) document of a set that draws upon songs from all 4 of our studio albums and beyond, making up the closest we are ever likely to get to a ‘Greatest Hits’.
‘A Good Night For A Fistfight’ appears in the form of 21 downloadable 320kbps MP3s and is available for pre-order, for just a fiver, NOW at loscampesinos.bigcartel.com (alongside a variety of new Los Camp! ephemera).
As a tiny taster of that night, we’re making ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’ available to download FOR FREE, while anyone who pre-orders will immediately receive a download of ‘Baby I Got The Death Rattle’ (the final song of the ‘set-proper’ from that night) also.
Following this release, we’ll be headed into the studio this June to record our 5th studio album.