Album Review
Los Campesinos! - No Blues Album Cover

Los Campesinos! - No Blues

Reviewed by
Los Campesinos! - No Blues
Record Label: Wichita Recordings
Release Date: October 29, 2013
This review was written by an AP.net staff member.
"There is no blues that can sound quite as heartfelt as mine," frontman Gareth Campesinos! intones on "As Lucerne / The Low." While he may not be correct about the "heartfelt" part, his "blues" certainly don’t sound or read quite like any other lyricist’s. Morbid imagery mixes with a death obsession rarely found within the sphere of indie pop to create a darker lyrical palette hovering above the band’s generally sunnier arrangements. Throw in a few puns that range from clever to groan-inducing, pepper with football references almost no Americans will catch even if they’re casual Champions League fans, and you have what has always been his recipe for success. It's been that way since the Welsh group released their debut EP Sticking Fingers into Sockets back in 2007 and garnered a lot of attention across the internet with the single "You! Me! Dancing!"

Since that time the band has undergone numerous line-up changes--most recently the loss of longtime bassist Ellen Campesinos! earlier this year--and has released five full-length albums including this one, the last of which prior to No Blues was 2011's Hello Sadness. While musically the band has matured away from the spastic, punk-influenced sound of their early albums and EPs with their recent output, the lyrics Gareth writes have remained as darkly sharp-witted as ever. This worked pretty well up until Hello Sadness, a record that felt very subdued and at times even boring, especially when compared to the band's previous work.

No Blues, while certainly another step away from the style of the band's early work, does not suffer from the staleness the last record did. It's the tightest Los Campesinos! record to date, and it also features the kind of lush, widescreen production job the group and producer John Goodmanson were probably aiming for last time around, but for some reason more often than not Hello Sadness just ended up sounding kind of flat. "What Death Leaves Behind," the first single from No Blues, is a perfect example of this great new sound: it opens with a woozy synth line and clamoring drums that continue through the verse before the band tears into an absolutely bombastic chorus. We've come to expect this kind of anthemic refrain from them, but they somehow sound bigger than ever as Gareth sings "Long time listener, first time caller / No need to remind me / What death leaves behind me" over the shuffling drum rolls of Jason Campesinos!

Additionally, while Gareth may write the same type of lyrics he always has, his vocal style matches the band's more consistent and mature sound better than it ever has before on No Blues. He has totally ditched the half-shouted style he mostly stuck to on the band's early releases here, and it's for the best as it wouldn't really mesh with the more nuanced sound. What's more, he shows a much wider vocal range than ever before, nailing the high notes in the pre-chorus of the horn-inflected "Cemetery Gaits" and also perfectly pulling off a lower-pitched croon on "Glue Me." Finally, while his lyrics are good like they always are, for the first time ever they aren't the primary draw of a Los Campesinos! record. Gareth has always known his way around a catchy hook, but on No Blues, every melody that he sings is madly infectious.

As previously mentioned, Gareth's lyrics on No Blues are more or less in the same slightly icky yet incredibly witty vein they've always been. Closer "Selling Rope (Swan Dive into Estuary)" depicts the protagonist's suicide--whether metaphorical or otherwise--and hell, the record opens in earnest with the lines "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." If that's not a classic Los Campesinos! couplet then I don't know what is. Even the inevitable football references, usually a sticking point for many American listeners, are better than ever. Or maybe this particular American listener is just proud that he's picking up on more of them than usual. One way or another, "Béla Guttmann of love / Curse all my exes to a life of celibacy" deserves to go down as Gareth's finest application of European sporting culture to his romantic woes yet. (If you don't get it that's okay, no one will judge you. Read this). Sure are there are a few corny roll-your-eyes lines here and there such as "You'll find me upside down in the belfry / 'Cause baby I'm bats it is true" from "Let It Spill," but there's nothing that isn't easily forgivable.

No Blues is a very different kind of record than the likes of their full-length debut Hold On Now, Youngster... but it's also probably the best album Los Campesinos! has made since then. At the very least, No Blues is the band's most consistent effort to date. It's the kind of album longtime fans have always known they're capable of: it sounds absolutely massive, it's dense and intricate both lyrically and musically, but at the same time it's unmistakably a Los Campesinos! record. And most importantly, it goes straight for the neck for all 42 minutes, remarkable for a band that's notorious for going off on unnecessary tangents in their music (for example the "I'm giving my body to science" bridge from the otherwise stellar "In Media Res"). It's a very satisfying record, and it's the type of album where every song will probably be your favorite at some point, and you'll almost certainly have each of them stuck in your head at some point in the next week.

Displaying posts 1 - 15 of 15
11:34 PM on 10/29/13
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vivatoto56's Avatar
Agree, I'm loving this. Band always delivers.
11:47 PM on 10/29/13
Nuns On A Bus
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Nuns On A Bus's Avatar
pretty much nailed it, this might be my favorite of theirs since WABWAD
04:29 AM on 10/30/13
easy come and easy go, whatever
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Jeff_Ryan's Avatar
This band is unbelievably consistent
06:25 AM on 10/30/13
Blake Solomon
every outcome's such a comedown
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Blake Solomon's Avatar
yeah this rules.
07:47 AM on 10/30/13
Registered User
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gabrielM's Avatar
It's a really special album. One of my AOTY contenders along with Front Bottoms, Old Gray, Have Mercy, T+S, Tim Kasher, & KevDev's Bubblegum. Pretty good year for releases.
07:56 AM on 10/30/13
Blake Solomon
every outcome's such a comedown
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Blake Solomon's Avatar
i think there's also a quip on that last song when he's actually jumped, but realizes mid-air that it's pointless because nobody is watching. and it's like damn, people think that stuff but it's powerful to hear someone sing it.
11:00 AM on 10/30/13
lloyd boners
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JayDanielHammer's Avatar
I absolutely love "What Death Leaves Behind". It is exactly what a perfect song is to me.

I also dig Avocado Baby quite a bit too. Excellent album.
11:01 AM on 10/30/13
Stop liking things.
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QuietThings430's Avatar
Avocado, Baby is goddamn incredible.
11:36 AM on 10/30/13
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untilitkills83's Avatar
gonna have to disagree with the review when it says 'hello sadness' was pretty stale, that album was incredibly well done. one of my aoty's in 2011. other than that, this album is excellent.
01:47 PM on 10/30/13
I don't like sand
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Kiana's Avatar
I don't think this band has ever put out a record I don't like.
07:15 PM on 10/30/13
Regular Member
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...atfirstsight's Avatar
I feel like these guys are all about the art and don't really care about making it/selling out. They've been on the brink with "You! Me!" and if they released an entire album in the vein of "Hello Sadness" "By Your Hand" and "Avacado Baby" they would blow up everywhere. So I respect them for sticking to their art, but the truth is I would kill for an entire album in that vein, because it's when they go off road that they lose me.

I guess I'll just have to go through this album and add the ones I like to my LC! playlist with my favorites from their other albums.
05:24 AM on 11/01/13
Chris Collum
Goddamn those shaky knees
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Chris Collum's Avatar
i think there's also a quip on that last song when he's actually jumped, but realizes mid-air that it's pointless because nobody is watching. and it's like damn, people think that stuff but it's powerful to hear someone sing it.
Didn't catch this before but it makes so much sense now that I think about it. The characters in Gareth's songs are almost always overly self-aware haha
06:26 AM on 11/01/13
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No Avatar Selected
One of my favorite bands. Gareth is the man.
04:20 PM on 11/02/13
Regular Member
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No Avatar Selected
Just started listening to this band, but this album is really great.

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