Los Campesinos! Deliver a Raw, Mature Album with Sick Scenes
Los Campesinos! are an interesting case study in the hype machine. Arriving onto the post-Arcade Fire/Broken Social Scene indie market just as having excessive band members was the new craze, the Welsh group caught ears with a big EP (Sticking Fingers Into Sockets), album (Hold On Now, Youngster…) and single (“You! Me! Dancing!”) in 2007/8, landing them an unlikely spot on a Budweiser commercial. A lot of people tuned out after that, but those that didn’t were treated to a remarkably consistent catalogue of albums, granting the once-hype band a new life as somewhat of a cult outsider, complete with a fervent fan-base.
After the giddy brazenness of their early material, the band quickly developed a morbid streak in their song-writing, and this remains mostly true on their tellingly-titled sixth album Sick Scenes. They haven't shifted drastically from their trademark sound (as usual), but overall the album is a rawer, more accessible and more mature (but no less energised) effort than anything they’ve put out before. Lyrically they explore their usual touchstones- mental health, ex-girlfriends, confusion, hopelessness, soccer and the like. But, yet again, they find fresh ways to express the same emotions, and their one-of-a-kind lyrical style here still stands with the best of their work. There’s plenty of humour, too- “Nah, I'm gonna need you to help me out here,” Gareth Campesinos! mumbles off the microphone on feels-y lead single “I Broke Up in Amarante”, before the entire band join him for a knee-buckling chorus.
One of the most striking aspects of this album is the sudden arrival of Gareth Campesinos! as a legitimate vocalist. Sure, he still frequently spits his words with all the fever of a rabid dog, and his voice will probably never be “pretty” (who wants that from this band anyway?), but when he decides to sing, he sings. This is especially evident on the softer songs, leading to highlights like “The Fall of Home” and “5 Flucloxacillin”. The former is a downright weeper of a track about homesickness, while the latter could pass as a serviceable Arcade Fire worship tune if it wasn’t a soccer-referencing song about medication and generational gaps, both songs apparently inspired by the EU Referendum. Kim Campesinos! delivers some fantastic vocal accompaniment throughout the album, balancing the sourness of her counterpart with a touch of sweetness.
The band gets self-referential on “A Litany/Heart Swells”, another "Heart Swells" track, this time expressing aching loneliness (“I'm shouting out a litany, an echo calls back”). The result puts a lump in your throat. For every time you may be tempted to make comparisons, the Campesinos! crew find ways to remind you that there’s nobody else like them, full stop.
Look, there’s not much more to say. Sick Scenes is just another fantastic album from a band with not a single slip-up in their discography (even their Christmas album is essential). If you stopped listening, now is your turn to tune back in. If you’ve never heard of them, listen to them now. Sure, they might not be for everyone. But this band deserve far more recognition outside of their cult following than they receive.