Well, let’s see if the soft spot in my heart for Los Campesinos! (the Welsh band with the Spanish name) has grown any since they dominated my 2008 with not one but two totally awesome albums.
The soft spot is about the same size that it used to be, which is still reasonably large-ish. The new Los Campesinos! record, Romance is Boring (I disagree with the assertion, but that’s a great title nonetheless), is probably my first big Expectations Test of 2010 (it will be followed shortly by second albums from both She & Him and Titus Andronicus). Their first album, Hold On Now, Youngster, made me pretty giddy, with its acerbic lyrics and bouncy, twee-pop music (I personally wouldn’t call it that, but a friend of mine used it to deride the band not long ago and I’m stealing his words because I confess I’ve never known what people meant by “twee”. My friend went on to compare Los Campesinos! to the Go! Team [on exclamation points alone, he’s got a point] in a way that suggests he has about as much regard for both bands as he would have for a grilled shit sandwich with a side order of deep-fried herpes). Of course, it caught me in the early part of 2008, when I was feeling like I didn’t have much besides a Hold Steady album (Stay Positive, which turned out to be the best album of that year) to look forward to.
So what, exactly, is the trouble here? Romance is Boring isn’t bad. It’s certainly not boring. It’s got the clever lyrics (so far, my favorite is “we need more post-coital/ and less post-rock”, a sentiment with which I heartily concur, “post-rock” being right up there with “twee” on the list of Bullshit Styles that I Think Pitchfork Made Up), the music is actually better (more guitars, fewer chimey bits) than in the past. And yet…
Well, I’m kinda stunned that I don’t like this album more than I do. And don’t get me wrong (or do), I do like it. It’s just… hmm… Here: have you ever had a friend talk up a favorite dessert or something – say, tiramisu – and they take you to this place where they think the world’s best ever, you’d-kill-your-mom-for-a-slice, perfect tiramisu is made and you try the tiramisu and it’s got all the essential elements (for you non-culinary types, any good tiramisu has, in my estimation, two essential elements: coffee and rum), but it just doesn’t quite deliver for you the transcendent, orgasmo-religious (how’s that for a made-up word, Pitchfork? I can do this shit too) experience that it clearly does for your friend? Well, replace your friend with “me”, yourself with “also me” and the tiramisu with Romance is Boring. I think I’ve reached a point where I no longer believe my own rhapsodizing about how fucking awesome Los Campesinos! are. This probably won’t create a problem for other listeners of their music, but it’s kinda bumming me out.
To prove that I was still inexplicably ga-ga over Los Campesinos!, I revisited their debut. Hold On Now, Youngster is still awesome, but I’m now skeptical that I would list it among my favorite albums of 2008. It’s still good, but it doesn’t grab me the way it used to. Fearing the onset of some kind of complete desensitization to great music, I decided to test myself on another band, Titus Andronicus. I was pretty awestruck by their debut, The Airing of Grievances. In anticipation of their second album, The Monitor (which is coming out next month and which can’t come out soon enough for me), I listened to Grievances again. Funny thing: I probably love The Airing of Grievances more now than I ever have. It’s a great album, still one of the more cathartic records I’ve ever heard (when you feel like beating the shit out of the whole world, put on “Joset of Nazareth’s Blues” and “Titus Andronicus” and you’ll feel better in no time. Or at least you’ll have an invigorating soundtrack for that steep climb up the book depository stairs).
So what’s changed between me and Los Campesinos!? Was I so eager for Romance is Boring that I ruined it with my own admittedly high expectations? No. I think it is exactly as good as I expected it to be. Los Campesinos! are doing what they do best, and they’re doing it pretty well. I think I’m just less excited by what they do best than I used to be. Now, bear in mind that I’ve only had this album for a couple of weeks and I could be orgasming over it by year’s end, but I don’t feel that way now. I felt sort of obligated to listen to Romance is Boring and that’s never a good sign. Having fulfilled the obligation, I don’t regret anything, but I do feel like I was just going through the motions a little (yes, I realize I’m dangerously close to a “faking it” analogy). 2010 is a weird year so far – there’s stuff I’ve been sure I would hate that has blown my mind and stuff I’ve expected to blow my mind that has been… well, so far, merely adequate. That I haven’t been utterly disappointed by anything yet is actually a rare and encouraging sign.
At the end of the day, I think the problem I have with Romance is Boring is that I expected it to blow my mind and it didn’t. It was merely good, possibly even great (maybe. Nah, probably not), but entirely unsurprising. I’m not gonna sell the album back or anything and I’ll probably keep listening to it, but I feel like I might end up feeling like I’m in love with an image of this album that exists only in my mind. In which case, I guess I will have proven that my romance with Los Campesinos! has become boring, at which point I will wait until they are dying of cancer to cheat on them. (Too soon?)