Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
Record Label: Arts and Crafts
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Although last year's Romance Is Boring found Los Campesinos! striking a sort of balance between their earlier releases' tightly-wound energy and some new-found emotional heft, the announcement that the new album would be called Hello Sadness came as a bit of a surprise. The reveal of the stark album art seemed to suggest there was little to no irony behind the title. As it turns out, there's more here than mere gloom and doom-- you'll need to look no further than the opener "By Your Hand" to find a shot of the band's usual playfulness-- but striking is the stylistic transition from ramshackle pop to more standard guitar-driven indie-rock. Under most circumstances, I'd say such a move represents a step toward faceless blandness, but for Los Campesinos!, it comes off as a strong artistic statement, that in fact-- as reckless and freewheeling as it appeared to be-- the band's earlier output was actually their reined-in sound. Hello Sadness, as the seemingly boundless tract of flat land and wide-open sky adorning its cover might suggest, is the result of allowing their songs to breathe. No longer restricted to the confines of cutesy, quirky pop, Los Campesinos! have delivered an album that's easier to dismiss from the outset simply because it lacks the irresistible instantaneous appeal people have come to expect. Luckily, it's a clear demonstration than the band lacks nothing in the songwriting department and should be more than enough to hook anyone willing to give it more than just a passing listen.
The first step in reducing the usual Campesinos twee-ishness is the virtual elimination of the chirpy boy-girl vocals, with Gareth Campesinos's voice taking center stage throughout most of the album. While his singing approach is still distinctively off-center, his focus is far-removed from laying down a sprightly jaunt and keyed toward something more nebulous, namely establishing an emotional tone worthy of his surprisingly fraught lyrics. Like the decision to forego some Instagrammed photo in favor of something more standard for the face of the record, the equally trendy disinterested posturing has been left behind, leaving a theme more timeless, that of heartbreak. Gareth has clearly been a hapless victim of Cupid's arrow but learned that happy endings aren't necessarily, or more accurately, are rarely, a given. Often, his lyrics sound positively emo, as on the refrain of the title track-- "It's only hope that springs eternal, and that's the reason this dripping from my broken heart is never running dry." Given the band's customarily wry stance, Gareth's ability to open up his diary and sound genuine in doing so could have been a huge stumbling block; his success turns out to be one of the record's major triumphs.
Also gone are Los Campesinos!' gleeful arrangements, save for a few fleeting exceptions, like the opening track's wink and nod to Vampire Weekend. Instead, Hello Sadness primarily employs guitars to propel its songs, and its sonic template borrows heavily from now-classic acts like Built to Spill, Spoon and early Death Cab for Cutie. It works well as an exercise in mood creation and a clinic on how there's no better way to portray hazy and fragile feelings like loneliness, longing and hope like a noodly-picked passage or distorted riff in just the right place.
I've made mention in the past that I normally find the passive, devil-may-care pretenses prevalent across the indie-rock landscape to be most relatable to me personally, but the honesty behind Hello Sadness is remarkable and incredibly appealing. Cool or not, Los Campesinos! seem to be backtracking on their assertion that romance is boring. Their latest treatise is a document of romance's complications and the ultimate reality that, at times, it can be a real fucking bitch. It sucks for Gareth that it seems he's recently learned about it the hard way and simply had to write about it. For his sake, I hope he's as better off for his loss as we are.
it's definitely different, but it's also definitely great. I think they realized what we needed now was not another Hold On Now, Youngster, because, really, none of us are that anymore. Good update to their sound, good band, good review, especially the last paragraph.
This album's honestly not doing much for me. I loved their spazzier, twee-ishness sound; this sounds almost too subdued to me save the first three songs.
I almost agree with you. I flip in and out of wanting more of what you described, but then losing my mind over how amazing and heartbreaking and subdued the last four songs are. I went back and listened to Romance after a long time with Hello Sadness, and it does definitely miss the energy. But damn it, those last four songs... 'Death Rattle' is definitely one of their best.