When thinking about the past, I usually think about differences such as how I’ve changed, how the world has changed, and things like that. There are two sides to looking back like that. On the one hand, there’s a pride in the things that have shifted to the “better” end of things. There’s also the side of things filled with regret: skills you don’t have anymore, friends with whom you are no longer in contact, dreams that did not coincide with where your life went.
Recently, I’ve tried thinking of the past in terms of things that have stayed the same. Most of these things are comforting. The negative things serve as a reminder that there is room for improvement in my current station of life. This thinking started last week when I found the biographies that the board of WVFI had written for each other. It was a fun moment filled with awww. There’s a lot of still-truth in the one written about me such as my affinity for Sarah Michelle Gellar and my defeatist attitude about the impracticality of my English major. Maybe the most telling sign about things haven’t changed too radically was the question that asked
What are you looking forward to in the next few months? -The arrival of the new Los Campesinos album at the WVFI studio. .
Again, despite all the time that has passed, I am still in a place where the promise of a new Los Campesinos! album put some spring in my step.
Waiting for Romance Is Boring wasn’t the same as waiting for We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed or Hold On Now, Youngster. . . . During the time between WAB, WAD and now, Los Campesinos! has become my favorite band. Also, I accomplished a personal goal of seeing them live. The band could have released an album full of 8-bit Blink-182 covers and I would have been stoked (Actually, that would be the best album ever).
Between the epic American tour and the information about they album they revealed on their website, there were loads of tidbits around to pique interest about the release. On September 9th, 2009, Los Campesinos! released “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” to the intrawebs. During their summer tour of the United States of America, they played two other new songs (“Romance is Boring” and “Who Fell Asleep In”). Taken together, these three songs fit like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle at the point where you sort of get the idea of what it is going to be but you still have the thrill of getting to the end and seeing the whole thing (however, it is not a jigsaw puzzle. It is music). “Romance is Boring” starts off simply enough but eventually builds itself through catchy offbeats keyboard bubbles and an anthemic chorus. In a live setting, the slower “Who Fell Asleep In” was proof that the energy and emotions of Los Campesinos! were not reliant on the beats per minute. When “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” popped up, it was almost shocking to the dark opening guitar riff and the lovely chaos that followed. Now that Romance Is Boring has been released (in North America, at least) the aforementioned (metaphorical, duh) puzzle is complete and able to be contemplated as a whole.
And as a whole, it is very great (Granted, you may not be able to take my opinion at face value since I love this band so, but I will try to enthusiastic while realistic). It would be odd to expect an album consisting only of frantic, dance-y, good-time, music geek anthems because Los Campesinos! have never made an album that is only those things. Songs like “We Are All Accelerated Readers” and “Heart Swells/ Pacific Daylight Time” are evidence in previous releases that the band has a depth that often goes unnoticed in the gyre of yelps, bells, and squeaks that are discussed.
On Romance Is Boring, both the depth and the scope of what the band can do are more fully realized than on other releases (so says the press release). The familiar sounding singles “There Are Listed Buildings” and “Romance Is Boring” could fit in seamlessly with LC!’s older catalog, but the layering of elements is new to this album. Whether it is the pomp of the horn sections or Aleks Campesinos! shifting her voice to a Placebo-esque inflection, these pop songs race, sneer, unite, and untie all at once.
Speaking of Aleks Campesinos!, her contributions on this album are incredible. Sure, she plays off Gareth Campesinos!, but her lines are just as, if not more, memorable than the Gareth counterpoint (not to say that Gareth’s stuff isn’t memorable). Maybe because it’s still fresh, but there seems to be a perfect balance and necessity to the two voices playing off each other.
I told a friend that this album contained the two heaviest LC! songs I could recall (in reference to “Plan A” and “I Warned You: Do Not Make An Enemy Of Me”). Also, in doing research (RESEARCH!), I’ve seen a lot less enthusiasm from fans in regards to “Plan A” than the other tracks. At first, I considered that track the album’s low point. More listens and the available lyrics sheet changed my mind though. The distorted vocals obscured the soccer narrative. Understanding the lyrics, the track becomes more compelling and the distortion seems less abrasive. Instead, it marks a more welcome youthful brashness. In the same vein, the scratchy guitars on “I Warned You: Do Not Make An Enemy Of Me” initially put me off. However, the harmony between Aleks and Tom at the end of chorus (I guess chorus?), asking “If this changed your life/ did you have one before?” has become one of my favorite moments on the album.
Also, what I said about those two tracks being the heaviest? I was wrong. That crown goes to “I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know.” The Campesinos! energy takes a turn similar to Shredder’s in the third act of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze. They become Super Campesinos. The pull-off guitar acrobatics are beefier on this track, and the octave effects add a delightful tension. The live cymbals (especially in the first verse) have a grand shimmer. The string sections seem even more cinematic. The very chorus of the song gives the impression of a cosmic concern with everyday disappointments. The voices imploring “Please just let me be the one to keep track/ Of the freckles and moles on your back” sound as if Los Campesinos! invited every one they have ever encountered to help them deliver that sentiment.
“I Just Sighed. . .” is also the most dense song. After my first listen, I looked to see how many seconds past six minutes the track went. To my surprise, the song is only four and a half minutes long (making it their fifth longest song, if both the EP and LP version of “You! Me! Dancing!” are considered). It feels longer because it sounds like the band threw all of themselves into the track.
The album feels like it has two distinct halves. However, I go back and forth on where that split is. The LP splits between “Who Fell Asleep In” and “I Warned You. . .” but I cannot get over the feeling that “I Warned You. . .” fits on the first part. The band has talked of this album as a full piece, and I trust in their decisions. Aside from my feelings, the second half of the album (from “Heart Swells/ 100-1” to “Coda: A Burn Scar In The Shape Of The Sooner State”) flows well, floating from theme to theme, style to style. It is a credit to the band that a monster track like “The Sea. . .” is a deep track (3rd from last) but feels like it is in its right place.
“In Medias Res” is slower than the rest of the first half of the album, but it may be the best opening track Los Campesinos! has committed to tape (or hard drive). I may be biased because the opening chords reminded me of “Soco Amaretto Lime” but if that can’t get to you, then you have no heart, sir (or ma’am). The track trots along strongly and continues to build. The build leads to a dark break which works as prelude to the collapse of the musical ideas established in the first part of the song. Eventually, the track comes together again, closes up nicely (supremely, even), and sets the stage for the album.
Also, Wow to “Who Fell Asleep In.” When performed live, the song is presented strongly. However, its recorded version has wonderful elements that cement the amazing qualities of the song together. Whether its the trembling vocals doubled by Zac (Penington) Campesinos!, the ukulele strummed softly in the background, or the ethereal keyboards floating aimlessly in the background, each piece of the recording comes together in a Voltron-ian way.
The exploration of new tones and sounds on Romance Is Boring comes off as dark if approached superficially. While Los Campesinos! address (and have always addressed) some of the more unseemly parts of the human condition (“…fucking, dying, fucking then dying, never dying then fucking…”), I do not view them as dour. I’ve never taken them to be the doom and gloom types. Maybe it’s a sleight of hand, but between the legion of sounds on every LC! release and their affinity for group singing, there’s a cathartic element going on in the songs. I may be completely off-base, but after listening to Romance Is Boring (and WAB, WAD for that matter) I feel a comfort like I have just successfully navigated something. Maybe not as successfully as I wanted, but it is finished and I am here and now there’s the next thing to do, whatever that may be. And somehow I feel better (and for all the dark pieces of Gareth Campesinos!’s lyrics, he’s still around, too). In his own words, he Gareth says of the album
It is a record about the death and decay of the human body, sex, lost love, mental breakdown, football and, ultimately, that there probably isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel.
I don’t know if I’ve made sense of anything and I don’t know if I could make sense of anything. I close by first asking you to check out Romance Is Boring. It is a complex and rewarding work.
Finally, here is my favorite lyric from the album
If you were given the option of dying painlessly in peace at forty-five/
But with a lover at your side/
After a full and happy life/
Is this something that would interest you?/
Does this interest you at all?