Los Campesinos! – “No Blues”

(Photo Credit: Pitchfork)

Grade: C+

Key tracks: “Cemetery Gaits” “Avocado, Baby”

Do you remember being happy? Do you remember what it feels like? On “No Blues,” the Welsh (not Spanish) indie sextet Los Campesinos! seem to have remnants of happiness. The band that once sang about Spiderman and the seductive nature of envelopes in fast, poppy songs with a double-dose of cheer and enthusiasm, ended up getting very sad very quickly. I’ll put on their 2010 album “Romance is Boring” when I feel like listening to the saddest thing in my entire music collection. And while that album is perfect, their 2011 follow-up “Hello Sadness” just wallowed in it’s own misery, permanently midtempo and self-indulgent to a too abrasive point. “No Blues” seems to be a turn-around of sorts – there’s glimpses of joy, even if they feel nostalgic. There’s still no cheery twee-pop, but there’s a diversity and a more then-and-now, complete sound that was sorely lacking on “Hello Sadness.”

The first few tracks aren’t really remarkable. They’re still wandering around in a medium tempo and hazy confusion. LC! are at their best when they’re on a mission – which always results in either intense, slow songs or quick and bouncy ones. These early meddling ones, like most of “Hello Sadness,” don’t seem to know what purpose to serve. “For Flotsam,” “What Death Leaves Behind” and the misplaced acoustic track “A Portrait of the Trequartista as a Young Man” don’t exactly start the album off on the right footing. But the repetitive and engaging synth riff on “Cemetery Gaits” is hauntingly nostalgic – like a musical equivalent of looking through old photo albums. This track, more than any other on “No Blues,” portrays the album’s theme of longing nostalgia.

Not every following track lives up, but many do – “As Lucerne / The Low” displays the same sentiment. “The Time Before the Last Time” acts as a quiet and begrudging acceptance of the present, before the rousing (if not overlong) finale of “Selling Rope (Swan Dive to Estuary).” “Avocado, Baby” even borders on fun, something we haven’t gotten from the band since the morbidly entertaining “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed” album.

The beauty of LC!’s albums is how there’s always a few stand-out tracks that can be repeated endlessly. “You! Me! Dancing!” didn’t get old before Budweiser commercials, and it still hasn’t. “Miserabilia,” “Straight In at 101,” even “By Your Hand” from “Hello Sadness” are ones that will never get old to me. This album will probably take a few more listens to get into, but I can really only see “Cemetery Gaits” and “Avocado, Baby” being songs to listen to frequently. The album still meddles, and even when it’s being thematic, it isn’t as catchy any other LC! album before it. The metaphors and honest lyrics are all still there, as is Gareth Campesinos!’s reliant vocals. It just all feels a little too introspective; a little too personal. It’s certainly an improvement over “Hello Sadness,” thematically and musically, and the tonal shifts back towards lighter times is very welcome. This is by no means a mediocre album. And with a few more (definite) listens, the grade might get bumped up. It’s just some of the magic over the first three very, very different albums seems to have gone away, and they’re only semi-trying to get it back.

-By Andrew McNally

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