Listening to a new Los Campesinos! album feels like coming home.
After seven years and five albums, the sound of Gareth Campesinos!’s voice now has a heartening familiarity to it, which means that even if they started producing ambient post-rock jazz fusion, Los Campesinos! would still feel like Los Campesinos!.
But fear not – they haven’t quite turned to the post-jazz-core (yet) – only seconds into No Blues’ opening track, ‘For Flotsam’, it becomes comfortingly clear that the essence of Los Campesinos! is still very much alive. In fact, more than anything, No Blues feels like a sequel to 2011’s Hello Sadness, the album with which the band really hit their stride, having experimented around a bit with twee indie pop (Hold On Now, Youngster) and a more punk rock sound on Romance is Boring. This is a continuation of that stride – the next step, if you will – and a development of the wholesome maturity which came out of that experimentation.
But that’s not to say it’s more of the same. Most noticeably, there’s a playfulness to No Blues that was less obvious on some tracks on Hello Sadness and completely absent on others. From an amusing bit of wordplay in the chorus to ‘Glue Me’ to the utterly inspired use of a cheerleading squad during the second half of ‘Avocado, Baby’ (a song which, it’s worth adding here, is easily one of the best songs the band have ever produced), the whole record feels a little bit lighter and more fun than Hello Sadness.
The album’s tone, oddly enough, is by no means altered because of this. Sure, it’s a bit more fun this time around, but they’re only little things, and don’t detract from an extremely powerful atmosphere. Now, a disclaimer: I don’t know if this is a universal thing or a personal thing or something a lot of you feel, lovely readers, but I often find that certain songs on an album feel completely right in their placement. More specifically, some songs, placed towards the end of an album, feel like climaxes – they have a sense of grandness or an impending finality to them. They have a very specific emotional pull. Funeral’s ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. More recently, ‘By The Throat’ on CHVRCHES’ debut. Even ‘Baby I Got The Death Rattle’, on Hello Sadness. I may be talking complete shit, here. If I am, just ignore what I just said, and what I’m about to say, and everything I ever say ever again. But No Blues feels like an album made up entirely of those big, emotional, climactic songs – and it shouldn’t work, but it does. And the result of that, coupled with that ‘continuation of maturity’ stuff that I mentioned earlier, is that No Blues feels like the apex of Los Campesinos’ career: a grand, climactic album with that very specific emotional pull. I hesitate to use the quite overused word ‘epic’, but it really sort of is.
That’s not to suggest that there’s any finality to it, of course, or that it’s all downhill from here, or that this shouldn’t be the fifth out of fifty albums they end up producing, but it is to say that, whilst they hit their stride two years ago, this time, they’ve really nailed it.