After their well received "We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed" mini-album in 2008, Los Campesinos! wasted no time recording their new album "Romance Is Boring", and touring the U.S. and Europe before returning to England for Dot To Dot 2010. Los Campesinos! also had plenty of opportunity to hone their live performance touring with No Age and Times New Viking.
Recorded with veteran producer John Goodmanson (Bikini Kill, Wu-Tang Clan), and fleshed out with lots of brass, strings, drum machines and electronics, "Romance Is Boring" features guest spots from the likes of Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu, Zac Pennington of Parenthetical Girls and Jherek Bischoff of The Dead Science.
This is a band that doesn't lack ambition, with a recently recruited classically trained flautist making the band up to a seven piece. Singed to Wichita Records in the U.S., home of The Cribs, Peter Bjorn & John and Lissy Trullie, there seems every likelihood that Los Campesinos! will be massive this Summer.
Los Campesinos! are playing all three cities over the Dot to Dot 2010 weekend, so there's no excuse not to catch their grand, wistfully romantic, widescreen approach to creating the perfect indie-pop song.
One of the earliest Los Campesinos! singles came with a daisy chain of paper dolls tucked into the sleeve, each Campesino! holding hands and smiling wide. Had a razorblade popped out of 2008's We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, I doubt anyone would've blinked an eye. Over the past three years, Los Campesinos! transformed themselves from a smart, spry, neon pop group possessed with a seemingly boundless everykid exuberance to a bunch of noisy, angry, funny weirdos. Their near-blindingly bright debut LP, Hold On Now Youngster, sat on shelves for a scant eight months before the group followed it with We Are Beautiful, a squalid spleen-venter. They started touring with noise-rock bands. Gareth Campesinos!, lead shouter/songwriter, began barking for heavy stuff like Xiu Xiu and Parenthetical Girls on their Twitter; then, they got the guy from Xiu Xiu to guest on their latest record. In practically a year's time, Gareth went from phrase-turning, scene-critiquing clever kid to a sadsack of Steven Patrick Morrissey proportions, while his band loosened up and billowed out, their grandiose pop growing at once messier and more symphonic. It's all been pretty good.
And it all comes to a head here on Romance Is Boring, their third proper LP. All that they've managed to do over the three short years-- the not-so-quiet confidence and compositional precision of their earlier work, the weary weather-beaten sound of We Are Beautiful, and of course Gareth's hilarious, grotesque, and immensely affecting character sketches-- finds its way onto Romance. And Gareth, poor hilarious Gareth, though still very concerned with the goings-on around his navel, has turned his gaze outward just a bit; heck, the first line on the record has him pleading to "talk about you for a minute." They're still utter musical maximalists, still keen to shout when the time calls, and still led by a perpetual malcontent, but Romance Is Boring feels like the payoff of three years of extremely hard work; Gareth may never settle down exactly, but his band's sure getting some stuff figured out.
On sonics alone, Romance Is Boring is a triumph; bringing back We Are Beautiful's John Goodmanson as producer, they've expanded their already sizable instrumental palette, thrown a little more space into the still-crowded mix, and figured out a way to make the big moments count even more by pulling back during the ones that mean less. Whereas before, it occasionally seemed as though they were piling on instruments just to keep idle hands busy, they've learned not to do everything at once. Gareth's been badmouthing their early reliance on glockenspiel to just about anybody who'll listen these days, and there's definitely a deemphasis on the cuter side of things; that's clear as soon as you hit the turgid electronic breakdown of "In Medias Res". Those still-great old numbers from the Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP sound like they were written by some gifted children, the jarring wallow of We Are Beautiful like young adults; the comparatively subtle Romance Is Boring feels almost full-grown.
Gareth, too, is showing off some of the wisdom of his not-so-advanced age; a limber, funny, and often uncomfortably direct lyricist, he's a little less concerned with being clever here. One striking thing about Romance is how little concern there seems to be with rhyme schemes, as if expression of these thoughts couldn't be relegated to some prescribed formula. Because he writes well over the lines, songs start and end in strange places-- "Straight in at 101" kicks off with a knee-slapper about post-rock and winds down with a televised countdown of worst breakups ever-- but it has the naturalistic feel of a stream-of-consciousness confessional written by a dude who's been through a lot and spent even more time thinking about it. He's always managed to find the humor in the tragic, but here, he finds time for both. He begins one song detailing a friend's struggles with eating disorders, then leads off the next with a unison scream urging one and all to "calm the fuck down." Because so much of this seems ripped from the pages of Gareth's journal-- and because he still sings like he's gonna blow up at any moment-- the urgency of all that he's trying to convey can knock you flat. There may be slicker songwriters, and there are many more economical, but there are few more honest, more willing to put it all out there, and for many, more relatable.
For some, the cohesive, self-assured Romance will be their favorite Los Campesinos! record; others will continue to prefer the extremity of what came before. That's the breaks with an intensely personal band like this, I suppose; you're going to get intensely personal reactions. Speaking as somebody a little older than your average Campesino!, I can tell you I'm glad to be out of the shitstorm of my early twenties on display here, but I do remember it well; never better than when I'm listening to this band, for better and worse. I can remember at that age feeling constantly on the verge of something, but not knowing sure just what. Romance Is Boring smacks of that feeling, knowing more than before but still trying to hash out just where to go with it. It's fun watching bands grow; it's been a pleasure watching this band grow up.
— Paul Thompson, February 1, 2010