“I identify my star sign/ by asking which is least compatible with yours,” sings Gareth Campesinos on “Ways To Make It Through A Wall,” the first song on the second (!) Los Campesinos album of 2008. And I think to myself, “Here comes another awesome Los Campesinos record.”
Los Campesinos (which is Spanish for “The Campesinos”… just kidding. It means “The Peasants” or “The Farmers” in Spanish. And yes, Los Campesinos are from Cardiff, Wales.) scratched their name into my brain earlier this year with the outstanding Hold On Now, Youngster, a blistering set of snide pop tunes that lashed out at emo culture and romantic comedies with equal cleverness and ferocity. Needless to say, that album was, from its inception, bound to get stuck in my car’s CD player forever (or until Stay Positive came out three months later; but suffice it to say Hold On Now, Youngster got serious rotation between April and July).
And now, a scant 7 months after Hold On Now, Youngster, Los Campesinos are back with We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. A debut as impressive as Hold On Now, Youngster would be hard to follow up at any point and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is not quite the masterpiece that its predecessor is, but it’s still really fucking good. And, you have to admire their work ethic. For the sake of contrast: The Killers re-released their debut and a singles boxed set (yeah, after one fucking album. Brilliant) before getting around to dropping the steaming turd that was Sam’s Town, an album that wanted so badly to be Born to Run that people reported spotting Brandon Flowers attached to Springsteen’s cock at those free Obama rallies The Boss played this year.
We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is riddled with the same bombast and wit that made Hold On Now, Youngster a success, packed with great lines like “We kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking/ but there is no fucking future,” followed by “I’ve taught myself the only way to get along in love/ is to like the other slightly less than you get in return/ I keep feeling like I’m being undercut” in the title track. Los Campesinos are a cyncial bunch particularly when it comes to love, but they never tend toward self-pity like so many emo bands do. Nope. With Los Campesinos, it’s “I’m okay, the world’s fucked up.” Imagine love songs that reflect a worldview that’s equal parts George Costanza and Friedrich Nietzsche, set to the bouncingest pop-rock beats and you’ll end up somewhere near We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.
The six Campesinos use a mountain of intstruments to create the wall of twinkling bells and thunderous guitars that serve as the backdrop to Gareth and Alecksandra Campesinos’ back-and-forth (and sometimes overlapping) barbs; both vocalists are more than capable of weaving in and out of the music or shouting over the top of it where necessary. And lest you think Los Campesinos are merely good writers, I should like to point out that they have a really kick-ass guitar sound. Check out “Miserabilia” for the proof. While we’re on the subject, Los Campesinos also employ the best-ever discretion when electing to have everyone in the band sing at the same time. This worked brilliantly on Youngster‘s “We Are All Accelerated Readers” and is employed wonderfully on the last lines of “Miserabilia”: “Shout at the world/ because the world doesn’t love you/ Love yourself/ Because you know you have to.”
So if the Arcade Fire is the magnetic north of your indie rock compass (’cause they’re from Canada. See what I did there?), consider as their polar opposite (in a good way; let us never forget that The Arcade Fire is incredibly rad) Los Campesinos. Where The Arcade Fire are downcast and serious, Los Campesinos are merry pranksters, the guys (and gals!) who know they can’t beat you in fight but they’re going to get you with incomprehensibly awesome one-liners until you cast off your football helmet and go pound them to a pulp, soaking their K Records T-shirts through with blood. Both bands use a billion or so members to create unique and beautiful textures for their respective moods and both write incredibly well, noticeably better than many of their contemporaries.
I will end this review by quoting “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” at length because it contains some of my favorite lines of of 2008:
“You worry a million raindrops will die/ with the last memory of you and I/ in the soft-porn version of the end of the world/ I quake at the knees as my intentions unfurl/ you wrote a letter to God/ just in case/ you said/ “I’m nothing if I’m not a pragmatist/ you needn’t worry about us/ we can look after ourselves/ we’ve learned not to rely/ on you or anyone else.”