It’s hard to remember the landscape in which Los Campesinos! first emerged back in 2007. Their peers were a selection of haircuts who seemed destined for nothing more than a Saturday morning on the Soccer AM sofa having some brief back-and-forth with Tim Lovejoy. Los Campesinos! weren’t built for that world. They were more suited to the coach trip back from the football match, brain space occupied by the fuckeries of young love, yet distraught at another away loss. Music for the ‘wet Tuesday at the Britannia’ of the heart.
Some things have changed, some haven’t. Some band members have left, some have remained. But it’s best to look at Los Campesinos! like the plates at your parents’ house: no matter what new things adorn it, there’s the emotional center that’s been there since the start that makes you feel at home. Something to feel comfortable with…then you can embrace the new.
No Blues, the band’s fifth album (co-produced by John Goodmanson and Tom Campesinos!) sees them do as they’ve always done: grow up without growing older. Considering frontman Gareth’s recent work with Paul Heaton, we can safely say that Los Campesinos! have passed their Housemartins days and are now fully into their Beautiful South years.
“I think we definitely know more now what we want to achieve and how to go about trying to achieve it,” says guitarist and songwriter Tom. “I think in the past we’ve mistakenly assumed that progress as a band simply meant becoming as technically complex as possible, but now we’ve come to terms with our musical inadequacy. So with this album we wanted it to be super melodic, but with arrangements that enhance rather than cloud those melodies, while also bringing in new textures, new sounds. Something like ‘Clarity’-era Jimmy Eat World via Clams Casino seemed like a funny enough starting point to run with.”
But while the music has become more focused, more direct, the lyrical content of the album seems to have become more obtuse, harder to penetrate. While the young Los Campesinos! were happy to go dancing in public fountains, No Blues begins with an invocation of the flooding of Capel Celyn and ends with a swan dive into a river.
It’s as unglamorous an end imaginable, a light year away from the traditional suicide-on-wax of teen angst. It’s the self-termination of the professional. “We’d spent a lot of time in the months leading up to recording deciding if we should continue with the band at all,” says Tom. “Trying to make everything work financially is a real struggle. When we finally got into the studio to record, there was a definite surge of relief. That ‘nothing to lose’ mentality ended up defining the album.”
While the group’s usual preoccupations – death, drinking and listless sex – are all present and correct, football takes the foreground. Name-checks of the beautiful game pierce through this album and shimmer like calcite. Antonín Panenka, Béla Guttmann, Cameroonian journeyman Joseph-Desire Job. Even the home ground of defunct Welsh part-timers Bethesda Athletic, Meurig Park, finds a place in the lyric book (giving another chance for people to mistakenly refer to the group as Welsh).
And it’s this that’s always been the weird dichotomy at the heart of Los Campesinos! and one of the things that makes them so essential: regardless of them being a band who are so rooted in the culture and realities of minor English towns, they find themselves clutched to the chests of people with no experience of those places. A band who can make American teenage girls change their Tumblr handles to start referencing Tony Yeboah in the very anticipation of this release.
Gareth concurs: “We’ve always attracted the frail indie kids as well as grown-arsed, beer-bellied men, mirroring the transition I’ve undergone during the course of the band, I guess. But this is a strength of Los Campesinos! Those disparities are why we’re interesting. And also why we’ve made it to five albums despite zero commercial success.”
Zero commercial success? While the previously mentioned haircut bands that used to be their peers have fallen into obscurity, returning back to their day jobs in marketing or releasing vanity solo projects, Los Campesinos! are still defiantly here. They’re a band who’ve developed from cuts on their knees from dancing all night through to cuts on their knees from sliding tackles, and No Blues is an album for the survivor. “I couldn’t have maintained the gloom of our last record,” says Gareth. “So we’re smiling now, even if it is through bloodied, broken teeth.”
No Blues (recorded at Bryn Derwen Studios in Bethesda, North Wales in June 2013) follows Hold On Now, Youngster… (2008), We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (2008), Romance Is Boring (2010) and Hello Sadness (2011) to become the fifth Los Campesinos! album. Formed in Cardiff, Wales in 2006 the band is made up of Gareth (vocals), Jason (drums), Kim (vocals, keyboard), Neil (guitar), Rob (keyboard, guitar, vocals) and Tom (lead guitar). The album will be released on Wichita Recordings (North America) and Turnstile/Heart Swells (ROW).
1. For Flotsam
2. What Death Leaves Behind
3. A Portrait of the Trequartista as a Young Man
4. Cemetery Gaits
5. Glue Me
6. As Lucerne/The Low
7. Avocado, Baby
8. Let It Spill
9. The Time Before the Last Time
10. Selling Rope (Swan Dive to Estuary)