It might be the indier-than-thou anti-cool that colours both their music and their image (geeky university students in specs and nice jumpers playing glockenspiels and cellos), or the lyrics that perch precariously on the fine line between genius and bad teenage poetry. Maybe it’s the over-protective, rabidly obsessive fan-base, or perhaps it’s just the entirely unnecessary exclamation mark they insist on tacking onto the end of their name. Whatever it is, there’s something about Los Campesinos! that makes them the kind of group a lot of people will love to hate. The Welsh septet’s fourth long-player, Hello Sadness, is unlikely to change any already made-up minds, but if you’re still on the fence it’s certainly worth putting any preconceived prejudices aside: written and recorded amidst considerable personal – and personnel – upheaval, these ten tales of young love gone to shit are the perfect introduction to one of Britain’s best bands. Going through a tough break-up and having three band-mates depart (for varying reasons) in quick succession has brought forth a more mature side to front-man Gareth’s songwriting, but his lyrics are still chock-full of witty puns, pop culture references and incidental details like football scores and bus numbers; for every bleeding, open wound (“We burnt all the skin from the palm of my hands/ With an old zippo lighter and deodorant can/ I went to the palmist and asked her to read/ No heart line, no sun line, no life line, no need”) there’s a bit of clever, multi-dimensional wordplay (“Over time they build up the city and our arguments show it all/ Every ring road, every motorway/ Displayed in crease and wrinkle/ Until my face is a map you have folded up/ One hundred, one thousand times”) to take the edge off. Musically, too, it’s an album of eclectic extremes, flitting from chaotic punk-pop (“By Your Hand”, “Songs About Your Girlfriend”) to propulsive DIY disco (the excellent, “All My Friends”-on-a-budget title track) to darker, more dramatic numbers (“The Black Bird, The Dark Slope”) like an ADD-afflicted magpie; it’s certainly easy to see why former touring buddies Broken Social Scene felt enough of a kinship to sign the group to their Arts & Crafts label in the U.S. Their Belle & Sebastian-meets-Blink 182 sound (tweemo?) might be something of a niche product, but with age the band’s horizons are clearly broadening; Hello Sunshine is a great record, and – even better – one that suggests the best is yet to come.
Listen: “Hello Sadness” http://soundcloud.com/los-campesinos/hello-sadness
Hello Sadness is out November 14 on Wichita