I once worked with someone who opined that John Cusack’s assertion in High Fidelity that, “It’s what you like, not what you are like that matters” is basically correct. Of course, to cling tightly to this little belief, my coworker had to block out the fact that the movie ends with Cusack learning how fucked up that philosophy is and trying to make a tape for his girl that she’ll like. So I present to this ex-colleague who very likely does not even know that this blog exists (or if they do, they probably don’t remember saying this to me) the words of Los Campesinos!: “it’s not what you like/it’s what you’re like as a person/ I need new hobbies, that’s one thing for certain”.
The seven Campesinos who make up Los Campesinos! (yes, they all have the surname Campesinos, just like the Ramones were all named Ramone and all the guys in Fall Out Boy have the same last name – McDouche) like some good music – it’s well-documented that they love Pavement and obvious from their music that they’re indebted to groups like the Ramones. But it’s what they’re like as people, or in this case as a band, that really matters. And I’m happy to say that Los Campesinos! is a fucking awesome band and Hold On Now, Youngster is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.
I’ve been wondering recently if rock music is headed toward this unseemly, eye-linered abyss where everything either sounds like My Chemical Romance, Linkin Park, or Nickelback. I mean yeah, you’ve got your Hold Steady and your My Morning Jacket, but the ranks of the righteous are overwhelmed by all these pseudo-rebels who date teen pop stars (look this up – fucking Google it right now – you’ll find a guy from Fall Out Boy dating Ashley Simpson and a dude from Good Charlotte dating Hillary Duff or some shit; I’m sure there are other examples and hate myself for being aware of any of them) and then show up on magazine covers being touted as the next Clash ’cause they toured with Green Day. Hear me now: No band who is now or who has ever been on the Van’s Warped Tour is the next Clash.
Where was I? Oh yeah. Rock music. Dead? No. Los Campesinos! are not quite as rock as the Ramones or my beloved Clash (or my just as beloved Hold Steady) but there’s no other word I can use to describe Hold On Now, Youngster. It fucking rocks. It hits a lot of my sweet spots: male and female lead vocalists (Gareth Campesinos and Aleksandra Campesinos; incidentally, having someone named Gareth in your band is also a big plus for me), loud electric guitars, varied instrumentation, and one of my favorite things ever: clever, sometimes even snarky lyrics like “Nothing says I miss you quite like poetry carved in your door with a Stanley knife,” or “I spent the last seven years/ perched on the edge of my hide-a-bed/ scratching ‘I am incredibly sincere’/ into my high forearm” or “Four sweaty boys with guitars tell me nothing about my life,” or sweet zombie Jesus I could on for days. Good lyrics, that’s my point.
What helps Hold On Now, Youngster rock, though, is the system by which the great lyrics are delivered. The music is equal parts dancey synthesizers, pounding drums, and cranked guitars. The best song on the album, “This Is How You Spell ‘HAHAHA, We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of a Generation of Faux Romantics,” has violins swelling up in the verses and yet I will tell you and anyone else that this song is the rock anthem of 2008. If you didn’t get it by the title, “This Is How You Spell…” is a slap right in the face of your emo idols. The song shouts a “Cease! and desist!” to “every quotation that dribbled from your mouth like a final, fatal Live Journal entry…” And “This Is How You Spell…” is followed by the exemplary “We Are All Accelerated Readers” which gives us both “I was sick in my mouth/ from the fear/ of the scent of an ex-girlfriend” and “I’m not Bonnie Tyler/ And I’m not Toni Braxton/ And this song is not going to save your relationship!”
The more I listen to Los Campesinos!, the more I realize that there is a sanctuary for intelligent people who love rock music and it’s in albums like Hold On Now, Youngster that celebrate being witty and being able to play loud (“We Are All Accelerated Readers” ends with all 7 Campesinos shouting “Since we became/ accelerated readers/ we never leave/ the house” and my tendency is to shout along vigorously) – being intelligent and liking to rock out are not mutually exclusive and you don’t have to settle for the half-wit, “I read a poetry book once” pap that the emo-babies regurgitate from year to year. Incidentally, the same coworker who asserted that it’s more important to like cool things than to be a cool person would (irony much?) call me a hipster whenever it was revealed that I don’t like bad music (this would usually come out at some happy hour where “Don’t Stop Believin'” would come on the jukebox and I would proclaim loudly that it’s a piece of shit song by a piece of shit band and that I don’t have to like it, ironically or otherwise, and people who like Journey may be good people – maybe – but they’re wrong, just wrong, about Journey). I thought of this coworker with a smile the first time I heard, “You! Me! Dancing!” from Hold On Now, Youngster: “It’s sad that you think that we’re all just scenesters/ and even if we were, it’s not the scene you’re thinking of”.
Los Campesinos!, with Hold On Now, Youngster, create not only a damn fine rock album but a musical ethos, an antidote, something to help me chase away the fear that my children will grow up thinking that Pete Wentz was somehow the voice of my generation. I raise my glass repeatedly to this record – find it, listen to it at top volume, and then next time you see a kid in a My Chemical Romance or Fall Out Boy t-shirt, grab hold of him and shout into his face, “Cease! And Desist!”