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Los Campesinos! Struggle To Find A Consistent Tone On 'No Blues'

For The Heights

Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 22:10

Los Campesinos!

Photo Courtesy of Wichita Recordings

British indie rock band, Los Campesinos! is back with the release of its fifth studio album No Blues. The first single, “What Death Leaves Behind,” was released as a free download and was followed by their second single, “Avocado, Baby,” which was used for the album’s first music video. The six-membered band provides fans with 10 tracks for an overall upbeat and interesting album, but with some painfully cliche “indie” elements.

The overall production and composition of No Blues is solid. Despite its relatively short length, clocking in at only 41 minutes, this album has plenty going on. Each track has a distinctly happy tone that repeatedly alternates between calm and chaotic. Many of the songs start off with a trippy vibe, usually consisting of spacy keyboards, robotic sounds, barely audible voices. Despite the dense collisions of noise that frequently erupt through the album, each instrument is distinct and sometimes captivating. It can be easy to get hooked on a single instrument—the bass parts in “For Flotsam” are an outstanding example. The band does tip-toe around being poppy and cheesy enough that some new listeners may be disillusioned.   

The interesting thing about No Blues is the constant contrasts that proliferate the album. Many of the songs take interesting turns in pace and energy, while maintaining a mostly exuberant vibe. Los Campesinos! deliver some nice surprises. The tone can easily switch from dreamy and synthetic to rocking and energetic. Some moments come across as completely anomalous. This includes a breakdown in “Avocado, Baby” that sounds like a remnant of a cheesy ’80s hip-hop song. Despite its dynamics, the album frequently has a cheerful atmosphere. To put it bluntly, the music often just sounds plain happy.

Still, despite how upbeat parts of No Blues sound, there’s a melancholic undertone and some really dark and depressing lyrics. Many of the lines habitually allude to death or conjure morbid imagery, such as when the band sings on “Avocado, Baby,” “may she who casts the first fist of dirt across the casket have mourners lick the mud from her fingernails.”

The lyrics and vocals are where this album is inconsistent. Some may find Gareth David’s delivery particularly over-the-top and silly. Although older fans won’t be disappointed by any dramatic changes in singing, new listeners may become quickly turned off. Some may find that there are particular moments when the vocals border on both cringe-worthy and laughable at the same time. This, thankfully, seems to be most prominent in the verses and does not pollute other areas of the song. In addition, there are some excellent background and harmony vocals that often do a superb job complementing the lead vocals and adding another atmospheric layer to the songs.

One can easily get through these songs without giving many of the lines too much thought. A closer listen to the lyrics, however, may raise some eyebrows and roll some eyes. Unfortunately, listening closely to the lyrics can be downright distracting and confusing. They tend to alter between morbidly dark and ridiculously corny when they aren’t sporadically devolving into indie nonsense. An example of dismal lyrics can be found particularly at the end of “A Portrait of the Trequartista As A Young Man.” Its last few lines sound almost nihilistic, “We all know we’re gonna die, we’re a speck of dust in a bad God’s eye.” Whether some of the lyrics are cliched or compelling, is, admittedly, a matter of taste.

Although it arguably has issues with lead vocals and lyrics, the rest of No Blues is genuinely interesting at worst and enjoyable at best. Longtime fans may be surprised by the extra kick of exuberance, but nonetheless pleased with a solid release. Musically, there are a lot of great twists and turns—too many to list. New listeners of Los Campesinos! still have plenty of room to enjoy the album as well, but may have to approach it with a pinch of open-mindedness.

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