By Hollister Dixon
Over the last decade, Los Campesinos! have been an incredibly dynamic beast. Starting as a too-smart tweepop band, they’ve morphed into a band of consistent and surprising depth. The band’s frontman, Gareth Paisey, is one of the sharpest lyricists working today, and though the rest of the band’s lineup has shifted pretty constantly over the years, he’s always been surrounded by other, equally talented players. The band are days away from the release of their 6th LP, Sick Scenes, and are about to embark on their first major North American tour in five years.
We present to you 10 songs over the course of the last six albums. It would be easy to do an equally wordy rundown of all of the band’s non-album material, but for the sake of ease, I’ve decided to stick to their albums.
1. “The International Tweexcore Underground” (International Tweexcore Underground single)
Though Hold On Now, Younger‘s “Death to Los Campesinos!” (more on that one in a moment) did an extremely good job of being a perfect snapshot of who Los Campesinos! were in 2008, going back just a little farther presents us with an even better look not only at who they were, but what kind of band they’d become. It sets a breakneck pace from the beginning, calling out the cooler-than-thou among their peers (“Getting the laptop fixed by a professional doesn’t make me a pawn, and stamping harder on your FX pedal won’t make you feel better anymore”) and namechecking Amelia Fletcher and Sarah Record. The song only briefly halts its pace to opine that “this city is run by fucking pigs”, and picks up just in time for frontman Gareth Paisey to slip wonderfully into total apathy: “And I don’t care about… whatever.” This song may be the best distillation of pre-Romance is Boring Los Campesinos!, and though they rarely make sounds quite like this anymore, it’s still one of their finest statements.
2. “Death to Los Campesinos!” (Hold On Now, Youngster)
Much in the same way “The International Tweexcore Underground” was, “Death To Los Campesinos!” is an all-caps mission statement for a band that was, in its infancy at least, an impeccable combination of infectious pop-rock energy and fantastic one-liners (“Splitting necks and calling it dichotomy”, “I’ll be ctrl-alt-deleting your face with no reservations”) – a trait that remains the band’s most consistent asset through all of their stylistic changes. We also get a great look at how the band used dual vocals, giving “Death To” a ping-pong vocal quality. It’s hard to sit still during a song like this one.
3. “You! Me! Dancing!” (Hold On Now, Youngster)
If you know any Los Campesinos! song, it’s probably this one, thanks to the good people at Budweiser. A staple of the Los Campesinos! live experience, it once again gave us a window into the band’s strengths as a band in their early days. Borrowing heavily from “Box Elder” by Pavement (they don’t hide this; the first time I saw the band, they started playing this song by covering a chunk of the song – which wasn’t their first Pavement cover), the song’s pop edge cleverly hides a self-conscious tale about feeling completely out of touch when surrounded by friends, like a much poppier prequel to “All My Friends” (or a less whip-smart “Losing My Edge”). The band will likely never make songs that sound like this ever again, but it remains an indispensable jewel in their crown.
4. “Miserabilia” (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed)
It might have been possible to write Los Campesinos! off as a smart-but-forgettable pop band for the first half of 2007. Hold On Now, Youngster is one hell of a pop album, but if you aren’t paying attention to everything the band does right with that record, it can be easy to see them as frivolous. It’s entirely possible they knew this, because they released We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed 8 months later. Clocking in at a nimble 32 minutes, the band didn’t even call it an album in the first place, settling on calling it an “EEP” (Extended Extended Player, naturally). That kind of speed could be viewed as an unnecessary “first thought, best thought” approach in the hands of a lesser band, but We Are Beautiful helped the band showcase all of the strengths they only hinted at on Youngster.
“Miserabilia” was a warning shot, advising you to not get too comfortable with the band’s sound. The song just sprawls out, completely eschewing all of the straightforward tendencies of its predecessor. “Miserabilia” only passingly embraces the more story driven aspects of Los Campesinos!, but it contains the most quintessential LC! line so far: “Shout at the world because the world doesn’t love you / Lower yourself because you know that you’ll have to”.
5. “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed)
Gareth Paisey’ vocal pace reaches breakneck speeds here on the album’s title track, opting out of actual singing to settle into a rapid-fire dissection of the dissolution of a long-distance relationship in ways that only he could: “You feel terrified at the thought of being left behind / Of losing everybody, the necessity of dying / Oh, we kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future.” He lays everything on the table: his jealousy (“You said he’s got his teeth fixed / I’m gonna break them”), his awareness of his own faults and insecurities, his own desire for his heart to be the organ that “goes first” in his “badly designed, poorly put together vessel harboring these diminishing so-called ‘vital organs'”.
Worth noting: this is a band that have built themselves a small universe of recurring characters and motifs, and this is the first mention of Charlotte, who will come up again on Romance is Boring‘s “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show Me State; or, Letters from Me to Charlotte”.
6. “Straight In At 101” (Romance is Boring)
“I think we need more post-coital, and less post-rock / Feels like the build-up takes forever, but you never get me off.” This is how “Straight in at 101” starts, in case you had any worries that the next-level maturity of Romance is Boring might have stripped Gareth Paisey of his wit. “Straight in at 101” is an ode to the drama of failed love and bad sex in a brutally catchy package. It may not be the best song on the album – that one’s next up – but it’s one of the band’s funniest songs to date, and manages to espouse filth without being cringeworthy. It’s a feat.
7. “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future” (Romance is Boring)
It’s entirely possible – almost likely, in fact – that Los Campesinos! will never write a song better than “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future”. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; every single element in play on this song is exactly on point. Looking back on songs from just two years earlier on Hold On Now, Youngster or We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (which showed signs of a hidden depth), it’s almost easy to forget that it’s the same band. It’s obvious that this one is just different even before Paisey sings the first lines, from the brooding guitar strum and mournful violin swells. He pulls no punches, refusing to even let us ease into things: “I grabbed hold of her wrist and my hand closed from tip to tip / I said, ‘You’ve taken the diet too far, you have got to let it slip’ / But she’s not eating again, she’s not eating again / She’s not eating again, she’s not eating again.” The song never really lightens from there, giving a thousand tons of weight to the agony of trying to help someone who is beyond your help.
8. “Hello Sadness” (Hello Sadness)
A slow-but-steady builder and the strongest song on Hello Sadness, “Hello Sadness” gets a refrain so regular that, once he’s shouting it like it’s keeping him alive to do so, it’s painfully obvious that he barely believes the words he’s saying: “It’s only hope that springs eternal / and that’s the reason why / the dripping from my broken heart is never running dry.” It’s easy to see this as an overdramatic feeling, but the fact that he still feels like hope springs eternal inside of him does mean something. The pace of this song is downright infectious.
9. “What Death Leaves Behind” (No Blues)
The first track from No Blues, “For Flotsam” returns Paisey to the two things he does better than most people: wordplay and football references. Do you know what a catenaccio is? I do, thanks to this song. “For Flotsam” starts with a verbal gunshot aimed at an unknown target: “You say you are an old cassette that has gone and spilt its spool / You’re far more like a wet cardboard tube on this nightclub toilet floor.” We also get a great look at the sonic palette the band used while working on No Blues with this song, which is decidedly more bombastic and colorful than the sometimes minimalist, almost somber tones present on Hello Sadness. It’s still Gareth Paisey, though: halfway through the very first song, he’s already advocating throwing old flames in the ocean.
10. “The Fall of Home” (Sick Scenes)
The newest addition to this list, from the band’s sixth LP, Sick Scenes. “The Fall of Home” may as well be a different band; it sounds almost nothing like anything in their catalog so far. Paisey’s sing-talk deadpan gives way to a soft, almost falsetto glimpse inside the life of a protagonist grappling with the fact that the hometown they’ve left doesn’t feel like home anymore, and the place they left it for is too lonely to handle: “Left your hometown for somewhere new / don’t be surprised now it’s leaving you / Another weekday night alone / The rise of rent, the fall of home.” “The Fall of Home” is an an anomaly in the band’s trajectory, but it serves as an interesting look into where the band is headed next.