Los Campesinos! Hello Sadness

[Arts & Crafts; 2011]

Styles: “indie” power pop-punk
Others: Arcade Fire, Yuck, Blink-182

Huh. Apparently, indie rock can still make me feel things.

I was convinced that it had lost all significance, that it had been sucked dry of any genuine emotion, that it was, at this point in musical history, nothing more than a bunch of cheap grabs at “realness” used to grant fundamentally lacking work some superficial legitimacy. I was sure that I would never hear the lonely strains of a lightly fuzzed-up electric guitar without immediately thinking of generically Instagram’d images plastered over your average teenager’s Tumblr. Acoustic strumming would affect me about as much as Pomplamoose’s holiday ads made me feel cheerful. Coy, self-effacing lyrics sung by a casually disinterested singer would be no more meaningful than Chris Martin’s nauseating faux-insights.

But against all odds, Hello Sadness, the newest album from the Welsh whippersnappers of Los Campesinos!, feels vital, filled to the brim with urgent, palpable, and unabashed sentimentality. To get here, we had to go through two albums of Gareth’s messy, WASPy sexual maturation, which seems to still be in its embryonic stage on lead single and opener “By Your Hand”; funny that Los Campesinos! had to get older to make their most youthful album yet, and at first blush this may seem a “regression” of sorts. Indeed, most of the advance word I’ve heard from people about this album expresses disappointment that it’s not as clever as their previous work, that the melodies feel somehow limp in comparison, that the band sounds bored, etc. While I’ll concede that the band shouts a lot less here than on, say, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, these criticisms seem to miss the point entirely. Hold On Now, Youngster… became one of my absolute favorite albums of the last decade, not because of its cute witticisms, but because of its heart-on-sleeve nature, which felt organic and free of cynicism despite the undeniably rogue wink inherent in the songs’ immortal ramblings: “The trails on your skin spoke more to me than the reams and reams of half finished novels you’d leave lying all over the place/ And every quotation that’d dribble from your mouth like a final, fatal LiveJournal entry.” This willingness to step into potentially cloying territory permeates Hello Sadness’ every crevice. No, the album doesn’t have “smart” couplets. It’s simpler — ostensibly dumber and/or more whiny — and this absence of window-dressing frees the band from its occasional tendency to disguise its beating heart with precocity.

Musically, the Campesinos follow suit. After living with it for several weeks, I’m convinced that Hello Sadness hits harder than any indie rock record in recent memory because it doesn’t really sound like the gentrified indie rock I’ve grown so frustratingly familiar with. This album is “indie” for my shameless Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy-loving heart, constantly recreating that unforgettable sensation of hollering along with “Sugar, We’re Going Down Swinging” without actually knowing any of the words across its 10 songs and painfully brief 40 minutes. The central line of the title song — “goodbye courage, hello sadness” — feels brazenly sappy to the point of being sort of irresistible, not to mention inexcusably (and probably universally) relatable. And what’s more exemplary of the best pop-punk anthems than loud, proud, and only slightly knowing naïveté? Happily, Hello Sadness is musically subtler and lyrically more layered than, say, “All The Small Things,” without sacrificing an inch of that song’s blunt power. Consider “Songs About Your Girlfriend,” which finds its core in Gareth’s insistence that “Although I always made her purr like a cat/ She said I never made her smile like that,” a statement simultaneously defiant and resigned. Accompanied by a straightforward arrangement mostly absent of the glockenspiel that added levity to the band’s previous work, the sentiment is surprisingly powerful. Ditto for the assurance that “this dripping from my broken heart is never running dry” — kinda cute, I guess, but kinda devastating too, if only because we know that this sugary plea for affection is falling on deaf ears.

I suppose one could argue that Hello Sadness is only enjoyable if you can connect with its seemingly puerile sensibilities. But what meets the eye as immature is often making a direct grab for the soul, and this album is practically throttling the heart, desperately asking you to feel, deep down, the way it does. And really, doing so isn’t difficult — who hasn’t had a hookup as bad as Gareth’s encounter with fate? “We were kissing for hours with her hands in my trousers/ She could not contain herself suggests we go back to her house/ But here it comes, this is the crux/ She vomits down my rental tux/ I’m not sure if it’s love anymore.” So goes the aforementioned “By Your Hand,” and while the lines initially strike one as being embarrassingly childish, they also possess an emotional immediacy that is unassailable.

And why fight that? Why deny the truly moving catharsis of “Every Defeat a Divorce (Three Lions)” simply because the song is purportedly about football? I’m convinced that the audaciously flagrant romanticism that keeps this album from entirely collapsing into its overarching mood of despondency — despite the sneer the band tries to adopt on songs like “Baby I Got The Death Rattle” — is actually the byproduct of these guys’ maturation, as is the confidence that makes Gareth’s wailing of “they requested I leave ’cause my sad eyes are too much to bear” heartbreakingly frank instead of self-aggrandizing. Because it takes a long time to realize that all the detachment and simpering listlessness in the world can’t actually remove those shameful things we feel deep down, and if that sounds like a quintessentially “indie” statement to be printed in 36-point Bodoni MT and plastered on empty whitewashed walls, well, fuck it: maybe that isn’t something to be ashamed of anymore.

Links: Los Campesinos! - Arts & Crafts

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