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“GOOD NEWS, GUYS: I’m really miserable, which means the lyrics on our next record will be really great,” writes lead singer of Los Campesinos!, Gareth Campesinos!, in February of this year. A friend instantly forwards it to me with a smiley face emoticon to signal his pleasure.
When a press copy of Hello Sadness landed on my desk several months later, the meaning of these words is revealed: just before recording began, Gareth ended his relationship with Rebecca Taylor, half of UK indie duo Slow Club. The songs on this record, the label on the press copy reads, had be rewritten in light of the relationship they were about.
Hello Sadness lives up to its title. Ten tracks of ripped entrails, haunting animals, and alternately muttered and shouted pleas for death populate the album, but of course you wouldn’t know it unless you listened to the lyrics. Opener “By Your Hand” and the eponymous “Hello Sadness” bump and move with the energy that made LC!’s first albums so wonderfully accessible. The mood is gleefully dark as Gareth sings of a botched tryst with fate, “We were kissing for hours/ with her hands in my trousers/ she could not contain herself/ suggests we go back to her house./ Oh here it comes/ this is the crux/ she vomits down my rental tux.”
Often times the reviews of an LC! album focus primarily on the lyrics, but on Hello Sadness the real mastery belongs to the rest of group, who make some of the best music of their career. Primary composer Tom Campesinos! shows a willingness to branch out and give the music more depth. He leaves noticeable references to 90s alt rock and early Emo scattered throughout.
They’ve evolved their sound into something more directly pleasing. Gone are the instrumentals and extended noisy sections and frayed edges of Romance Is Boring (2010). These songs are pop, a genre that the band has always played with.
And the songs are sad too, unrelentingly sad. They border on too sad. This tonal irregularity can be most easily felt in the pneumatic, stuttering beats that drive even the happiest of songs. The guitars, for want of a better term, weep throughout the album, sliding notes into one another, occasionally rising into manic chords (“To Tundra,” “The Blackbird, The Dark Slope”). At the same time some picked guitar sections still hold over from early albums but their sound is more mellowed, slowed down (“Hate for the Island,” “Baby I Got the Death Rattle”).
The feelings and music are raw, a reflection of the quick turnaround time between break up and recording. It most readily calls to mind their quasi-album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, recorded at the end of a long-distance relationship. Whereas these albums match up theme for theme, there’s less youth and humor present in Hello Sadness. (Sadly, no lines as wry and devastating as “you’re worried a million raindrops will die/ with their last memories of you and I/ in a soft porn version of the end of the world”) Gareth sings like life has just kicked the crap out of him in an alleyway, and it sounds like he’s just going to keep lying there until he can muster up the nerve to pick up his teeth.
That mood doesn’t exclude beauty – on the contrary, LC! deliver what takes my vote for the best song they’ve ever written with “Hate for the Island.” The swell of guitars and a dream-like (but still fully formed) narrative of smoking weed, watching a fox tear apart a trash can, and realizing your girlfriend is just as torn up about life as you swirl together like a dreary rainstorm on a cold day. The track is one of their strongest, and accomplishes itself in less than two and a half minutes.
However, the album lacks something lyrical that only long time fans may pick up on. “Life Is A Long Time” is possibly the worst song LC! ever written. There’s no meat to its metaphors and the refrains are flat and boring. “Three Lions,” about England’s loss in the semi-finals of the 1998 World Cup, and the first time Gareth has written explicitly about anything other than love lives, has strong moments and images but falters with a chorus that doesn’t really go anywhere (“But how could I ever refuse?/I feel like I lose when I lose”).
The album closes with”Baby, I Got the Death Rattle” and “Light Leaves, Dark Sees, Pt II,” which forgive most of the faults of the album and erase them from memory. “Light Leaves” even offers the most heartbreaking and true picture of absence that they have ever written. “The pain of the silence/ before bed./ Oh for the sound of your pissing through the thin walls/ or stroking your hair.”
This record is still better pop music than 90% of what’s going on out there, and I recommend it if you’ve never encountered the band before (just be sure to go back and listen to the rest of their stuff afterwards). Hello Sadness is not a bad record – perhaps only an incomplete one.