REVIEW: Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

It feels like Hello Sadness has been such a long time in the making, when in fact it’s only been around 18 months since 2010’s brilliant Romance is Boring. A lot has changed within the band; some members have departed and there have been some new arrivals. Although they are still a seven piece, the dynamics have changed quite drastically.

Los Campesinos!, as a band, have only been making music for just over five years, and in those five short years we’ve seen 4 albums and 2 EPs, all of which are solid releases. You would think that the speed at which they release would have a detrimental effect on the quality of their work, but that is not the case, in fact it’s the opposite. With each album, they seem to get stronger and stronger as a band, and with Hello Sadness they don’t seem to be stopping that tradition any time soon.

The album deals with the themes of breakups, sadness and death, as is telling from the record’s title, but it does so in a surprisingly upbeat fashion, although not to the extent of their previous work. There are some lulls in the pace  (Hate for the Island in particular) but for the most part they keep it moving upward and onward throughout all of the ten-tracks.

Frontman Gareth’s ability to conjure vivid images in their listeners’ minds is ever present across the record, with vast use of metaphor mixed with very down-to-earth lyrics that makes it feel like something we can relate to while still keeping it on multiple levels. For example, in a highlight of the album The Black Bird, The Dark Slope Gareth uses the image of a blackbird extensively to represent the dark side and flaws in him, and in all of us, and how they hold him back. In contrast, some songs, such as By Your Hand are very much grounded in reality, with lyrics such as “’cause we were kissing for hours / with her hands down my trousers / she could not contain herself, suggests we go back to her house” that we know and love from Los Campesinos!

Musically, the album is a lot more conventional in the way its structured and how it will be viewed in the eyes of the general public as far as indie-pop goes. It all feels a lot more toned down but this fits the overall mood of the album well. Gone is the sporadic shouting and distortion on most of the tracks, leaving a more refined, grown-up album.

It’d be hard for a band to beat an opening track like In Medias Res from 2010’s effort, but Los Campesinos! try their hardest and might have just succeeded. By Your Hand, the lead single from the album, starts the album off with a bang. The song is filled with sing-along choruses, Gareth’s trademark, biographical lyrical styling’s and arguably one of the catchiest melodies of the year.

The hooks found in their previous work are not lost in the transition to their new sound though. Songs like Baby I Got The Death Rattle and the eponymous Hello Sadness have massive triumphant finishes, and a hell of a lot of energy. Hearing a crowd shout the words “not headstone, but headboard / where I wanna be mourned” is quite an unforgettable experience, and just shows the emphasis LC! can put into their music while still maintaining their tongue-in-cheek nature.

Although it may sound like I’m overflowing with praise for the record, it’s not all gravy. The final track on the album, Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt. II, feels like a missed opportunity. The track is a lot slower than others found on the album and with lyrics like “but they request that I leave / ’cause my sad eyes are too much to bear” it attempts to be a coveted emotional finish (a la Coda:A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Sooner State from RIB) but seems to miss the mark completely. The song then divulges into a chorus of woaaaah‘s from the rest of the band, it all seems a bit contrived. But that’s only a slight knock at an otherwise brilliant collection of songs.

Hello Sadness sounds like a record made by a band who know what they want to do and are proud of that fact. They’ve always been associated with keywords such as ‘quirky’ and ‘twee’ but they’ve countered those views by making a record that is their most accessible yet and maybe they’ll attract a bigger audience now with what might just be their strongest album to date. Heck, they deserve it.

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