Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Los Campesinos! – The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future



Matt Cibula: Oh so THIS is why there is an exclamation point in the band name. They’ve got few more in them like this, I trust, or it’ll be a damned tragedy.

Mordechai Shinefield: “The Sea” overflows with specific anecdotes, fully-drawn images, and clear references. All the things a creative-writing teacher would insist upon in a good short story. But a pop song isn’t a piece of fiction, and on the 21-syllable lines that they try to fit into the meter (“but you could never kiss a Tory boy without wanting to cut off your tongue again”), the attention to detail becomes less attractive and more misguided. I’d prefer punchier moments, and while I’m sure some listeners will be attracted to the song for precisely these narrative indulgences, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the song was bloated to counteract the anorexia of the female subject. She’s so thin, he can close his hand around her wrist. But rather than turning to vapor, her bodily obsession has made her all the more physical: “All I can hear is the sound of your own heart / And all you can feel is your lungs flood and the blood course,” Los Campesinos sing on the chorus. A song isn’t always like a body, but I think I’d like this song more if all I could hear was the sound of its heart, the flooding of its lungs. Instead it comes off more as the radio host, who narrates his attempts to quit smoking, and judges the woman who speaks in French, and whose every word she laces with significance.

Martin Kavka: I’m usually not thrilled by vagueness in pop lyrics. But if Los Campesinos! were going to successfully record a fiercer version of Death Can For Cutie’s “Transatlanticism” — something that would express our deep-seated desire not to have the world be alien in any respect — they would have known that a vaguer lyric would feel less private, less alien to the audience. People who live near seas and who have anorexic girlfriends will love this, but I have suspicions about the rest of us.

Alex Macpherson: This obnoxious, socially inept passion-aggression should have been cut off at the root: there are so many lyrics to cringe at in this attempt at a character study that you’ll feel epileptic by the time it ends, all delivered in a manner reminiscent of an only child throwing a minor strop. (PS: Tory boys are actually pretty good kissers, in my experience.)

Alex Wisgard: After giving this song its 30th runthrough in a week, my iTunes cued (it’s telling that I originally typed that as “cuted”) up Los Campesinos!’s debut “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives” — an accidental segue that actually left me on the floor in fits of giggles. Two years and as many records on from that single, the first hint of LC!’s “sex and death obsessed” new album is Dark Fucking Stuff. The band’s reference points remain as endearingly transparent as ever, but rather than the tried-and-tested Pavement/Kenickie soundclash, it’s all gone grandiose; the art-on-my-sleeve screaming in the first verse (which alternates between grating and gripping with each listen) smacks of Xiu Xiu, while the sweeping chorus is pure Arcade Fire. Still, Gareth’s voice remains entirely his own; who else would personify the default high scorer on “every video games machine” as a particularly RSI-prone American girl, or decorate (or destroy) a dense series of images of the end of the world/pier with a peripheral view of crazy golf courses? This song is a good place to think of the future of Los Campesinos! – and it sounds like it’s going to be a scary place to be…

Anthony Easton: The speaking tone of these small anecdotes about semi-suburban middle-class banal tragedies breaks the work down further into this haunted/broken sadness. I felt worn out and torn apart after a few listens, though I know that the manipulations are for desired effects.

Alex Ostroff: The up-tempo glockenspiel rock songs behind them, Los Campesinos!’s new direction apparently includes atmospherics and cellos and lots of screaming. The lyrics are still wonderfully wordy and melodramatic, this time about an on-the-road love affair with a beautiful tragic French-speaking anorexic pill-popper from the American South. Or something like that. Who can tell, really? Either way, it’s all a bit ridiculous and deeply cynical and darkly funny. To quote Gareth: “This thing hurts like hell, but what did you expect?”

Chris Boeckmann: After the dark turn of “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed,” “The Sea…” feels like the right next step for Los Campesinos!, a logical move into even stormier territory. It still features the same hyper-intelligent poetry that’s come to define the band, filled with beautifully illustrated details and biting truthbombs (“but what did you expect?”). During its massive, transcendent chorus, the song reaches some sort of intense revelation about the hopelessness of life. I’m not sure how well I can articulate that revelation, but I know two things: one, that it sends chills down my spine, and two, that it makes this their most brooding, beautiful and intense single yet.

Martin Skidmore: This more or less explodes into a kind of life halfway through — possibly this only sounds striking in the context of its ultra-dreary indie opening, to which it then returns, but it is a welcome bright spot (repeated later) and boosts this from the score of 2 that I had been thinking of.

Michaelangelo Matos: I keep hearing these guys and not remembering any of it. It sounds like a slightly poppier Arcade Fire or something, thanks to the greyness of its rustic arrangement. Maybe if I were making a comp called “Pennywhistle Indie” (Pogues, acres from the Arts & Crafts label), this would be a change of pace.

Edward Okulicz: Manic-depressive, noisy, dense and impressive. Definitely not an instant hook but even if the brief snatches of story in the verses mean nothing, they’re at least interestingly strange. This is no singalong, perhaps too unsettled and tricky, but definitely compelling. The choral underlay of the second chorus shoots for the grandiosity of [insert indie band produced by Dave Fridmann], misses and accidentally renders the Polyphonic Spree obsolete.

Anthony Miccio: It’s surprising to hear a young crit-pick in 2009 aim for early ’00s emo grandeur, but better young adults indulge in anthemic anxiety attacks than, say, crabcore. A quick look at the new Cursive video reveals that the original Saddle Creekers aren’t necessarily too old for this shit, but when the overwrought pomp makes the Arcade Fire sound like boogie fiends, I get the feeling I am.

Pete Baran: Orchestrated like a decent Delgados track, with a terrific choral chorus explosion, it almost visits Snow Patrol levels of indie bombast. So the only guide to how we should really react to this Los Campesinos! track is how good the narrative of the lyrics is, and if as a listener you can respond to any aspect of its Welsh miserablist drama. So topics include parental death, drug taking, eating disorders, party politics, piss-poor weather, talk radio and rubbish British seaside resorts. If you can’t find anything in that to identify with, then frankly this kind of pop music was never for you in the first place.

Doug Robertson: Not as inherently annoying as their previous work, but it’s still the sound of a band trying too hard to sound like someone else. They’re too in thrall to their perceived ideal of an indie scene to actually come up with anything orginal in their own right, and clearly think their lyrics are a lot more quirkily interesting than what’s in evidence. If they could actually have the confidence to try and become more than the sum of their influences and develop their own voice then they might have something to bring to the table, but why listen to someone else’s record collection when you can listen to your own?

Ian Mathers: People who take this song as a radical change in direction haven’t actually paid attention to Los Campesinos!’ music and have just gone by the (lazy, sloppy) press that’s tagged them as some sort of manic, twee/hardcore group. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed especially revealed Gareth Campesinos as an awfully dark songwriter and now that he seems to be spending more time on crippling existential dread and less on self-deprecation, “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future” hits, well, it hits as hard as a blow to the head or a smash to a skull or a knee to your chest. People who don’t like the change in sound ought to note that Los Campesinos! have already made just about the best two albums they could have in that mode, and if they’re going to be this good at everything they try their hand at then I, at least, want to hear what they’re going to do next.

Chuck Eddy: Marginally less anorexic than when they emerged, I’ll admit — appropriate for a song that warns about over-dieting. But I still found these callow Cardiff smarty-pantses more promising when they sang more like Buzzcocks, not to mention when they were out-punctuating Vampire Weekend’s Oxford commas with precious thoughts of ellipses, apostrophes and parentheses. Songwriting is still ambitious, but the plot doesn’t draw me in — sounds like they’re mistaking clutter for drama.

17 Responses to “Los Campesinos! – The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future”

  1. “hits as hard as a blow to the head or a smash to a skull or a knee to your chest”

    Sneaky “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks” reference. I see what you did there.

  2. A bunch of you have severely disappointed me here. I really would have thought better of you. SMH.

  3. Really, Lex? We disappoint you? My apologies. May I direct you to Jordan’s post in the Taylor Swift thread about YMMV and where there’s smoke there’s fire. That others find value in something that you rate quite poorly (and honestly, zeros tend to be as much ideological as practical in most people’s hands) has little to do with their desire for your approval. For someone who gets frustrated about kneejerk writing-off of entire genres and aesthetics…I dunno. You occasionally seem to be guilty of the same.

    I’m always up for debating the relative merits of music I love/hate with people who disagree, but comments like “I really would have thought better of you” are beneath all of us.

  4. Sorry. That came off more personally than I intended. I just meant that musical-lines-in-the-sand just strike me as rather silly, and putting people on the defensive is a silly way to try and achieve valuable and productive discourse.

  5. me?

  6. okay it wasn’t me.

  7. Fuck. John’s post. My bad.

  8. One of the most genuinely hateful bands. The vocals are spine-chilling in all the wrong ways.

  9. […] – Little Lion Man [7] Taylor Swift – Fifteen [9] Delphic – This Momentary [5] Los Campesinos! – The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future […]

  10. I think this one is actually a good example of what lex was talking about in the “Fifteen” comments. A bunch of people here really, really love this song (9s and a 10), some are meh about it, some don’t like it (3s and 4s) and lex outright hates it. The lowest score the Swift song got was 5, and aside from that I believe it was all 7s and up. That’s pretty crazy.

    Also, what does SMH stand for?

  11. “Shaking My Head,” apparently. I looked it up yesterday. I hate when people make me do that. (The one that was driving me crazy forever until I finally gave up and looked it up last month was “TOTES,” which I’d been assuming was another dumb acronym. It’s not. But it’s still dumb.)

  12. totes obvs

  13. Ah! Not sure what direction my thought was going in, but it wasn’t that one. Thanks, Chuck.

  14. If you haven’t come across “smh” before, you haven’t been spending enough time hanging around Oh No They Didn’t. Next thing you’ll be telling me you don’t know what “kmt” stands for. (“Kissing my teeth” – also applicable to Los Campesinos, tbh. (“To be honest.”))

    I say “totes” all the time, and on a related tip, “blates”.

    This isn’t really a case where I don’t “get” the band, btw (“by the way”). I get what Los Campesinos are about and it repulses me.

  15. I also don’t know who (or what? where?) Oh No They Didn’t are (is?)

  16. Livejournal gossip community: http://community.livejournal.com/ohnotheydidnt/

  17. ONTD is a gossip community that can be most efficiently summed up as “4chan for girls.” It’s the best thing ever!