“His romantic failure makes for finesongs” 4/5 – Rolling Stone
‘Hello Sadness’ is the fourth record by Los Campesinos!, and if 2009’s ‘Romance Is Boring’ marked a giant step on from their genesis – seven kids and a glockenspiel, ricocheting off the four walls of a Cardiff rehearsal room – ‘Hello Sadness’ constitutes another step, and a turn of the corner. Yes, these 10 tracks cover what we are coming to recognise as core Los Campesinos! concerns – love, loss, heartbreak, football (always football). But this is a record that’s wiser and more focused than its predecessors, confident in its abilities and clear in its aims.
“It feels like we’ve done all our growing up while in this band,” says vocalist Gareth Campesinos! “Not like we’re Hanson, or anything. But we’ve been Los Campesinos! since finishing university, and in that time we’ve all changed as people massively. That’s something we want to put across in the music.”
“We’ve learned what there’s room for, sonically,” adds guitarist/songwriter Tom Campesinos! “You start off quite idealistic about what you can actually fit into a song, everything fighting against everything else, and that’s fine, it suited those songs. But now it’s like everything is pulling towards the same goal. The idea was to make the most coherent, direct record we can.”
Recorded at Music Lan, a recording studio in Girona, Spain, overlooking the Pyrenees. The Los Campesinos! line-up had undergone a couple of reshuffles since the previous album, Kim Campesinos! joining on backing vocals and keys, Jason Campesinos! taking the drumstool and long-time compadre Rob Taylor – aka Sparky Deathcap – giving up his surname to join LC! in what Tom describes as “the Bob Nastanovich role”, singing backing vocals and juggling instruments as required. The Spanish countryside, so far from Cardiff with all its myriad distractions, proved the perfect place to rekindle the Campesinos! spirit, and the arrival of producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Wu Tang Clan), a constant with the band since the recording of ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’, closed the circle. “There was this real team ethic,” says Tom. “It felt like everyone came together.”
On first listen, ‘Hello Sadness’ might sound like a less fraught album than its predecessors. Gone is the hypertense, panic-attack rattle that characterised ‘We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed’, and the melancholy wallow that you heard in corners of ‘Romance Is Boring’ is in short supply. Play it more, though, and you hear an emotion that comes from somewhere softer, deeper, and – dare we say it – more authentic. Two weeks before recording, Gareth Campesinos! split up with his girlfriend, and, he says, “everything written before then became void.”
Naturally, then, he began writing afresh. Many past Los Campesinos! songs have wrestled with matters of the heart, and often played dirty in the process. But songs like ‘Baby I Got The Death Rattle’ and ‘Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt II’ come from a raw, uncertain place that, in their confusion of emotions, feel authentic. “There is anger, upset in them – but still a sense of being very much being in love, of still caring for the person,” says Gareth. It’s a confessional feel that’s intensified in places by whispers of incidental sound – the rattle of rain, distant radio, the hiss of room mics – and snatches of Dictaphone, captured by Gareth in a lonely or introspective moment.
While written at pace, ‘Hello Sadness’ finds Gareth’s lyrics reaching new levels of poetic articulacy. A strange menagerie of creatures – blackbirds, horses, woodworm – stalk and crawl the verses, and the landscape of the human form remains a preoccupation. On ‘Life Is A Long Time’ a catalogue of arguments manifest physically, in creases and wrinkles. “Aging is definitely in mind,” says Gareth. “I think a lot of people still think of us in this kind of youthful sense, but we’re in this weird place in our mid-twenties where you start to think like a grown-up. The record in general is about this weird state of limbo – being in a band is an incredible privilege, but it can make it hard to find your place in the world.”
The sum is a clutch of songs that are more accessible and more direct than anything that’s come before. At just 10 songs and 40 minutes, ‘Hello Sadness’ is perhaps the first Los Campesinos! album that sounds lean and pruned, indulgence shorn away and filler ruthlessly excised. The youngsters that made You! Me! Dancing! are long gone. The band they’ve grown into, though, are something to fall for all over again.