Last year Los Campesinos! put out a album called Romance Is Boring which made my top ten list (above The Five Ghosts by Stars and below The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man On Earth). Previous to that record, I didn’t care much for the band. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is decent, but nothing to write home about. I’ve never gone back and listened to Hold On Now, Youngster. Hello Sadness arrives with little build up. I didn’t even know this album was about to be released until a couple weeks ago when I noticed people talking about it on twitter. So, with little knowledge and no expectations, I grabbed it and started listening.
It’s impossible for me to not compare Hello Sadness to the band’s prior releases. At that level, I think it’s somewhat of a failure. One thing that I try to base my reviews on is musical growth, and I feel like this could have been a supplement to Romance Is Boring instead of it’s own album. That isn’t to say I don’t like it. There’s a difference between calling an album unsuccessful and hating it. There are some good songs on the new release, and if you like Los Campesinos!, you’ll no doubt enjoy this.
The first track is a great one. Easily one of the best on the record. “By Your Hands” mixes some great lyrics and vocals with the synthy pop for which the band is known. The stories the band tells often have striking visuals and humor, such as this:
But fates a cruel mistress, girl, the prettiest in the world/She dresses loosely in a bathrobe with her hair up in curls/ cause we were kissing for hours with her hands in my trousers/ she could not contain herself, suggests we go back to her house/ But here it comes, this is the crux, she vomits down my rental tux
Unfortunately, the band sets a high bar right out of the gate, and finds it hard to reach that level again. They do have some flashes that come close. The title track, “Hello Sadness,” has more great words, and the dynamic between the music and the song’s message makes it compelling. “It’s only hope that springs eternal/And that’s the reason why/This dripping from my broken heart /Is never running dry.”
From this point on, most of the record is a rehash of things the band has done before. It’s not bad, just nothing new to report on. One of the things I like about Los Campesinos! is that they generally don’t shy away from taking risks. That’s probably the biggest disappointment of Hello Sadness, that it’s so safe and within their comfort zone.
Luckily, the band get at least one more right at the end of the record with “Baby I Got The Death Rattle.” They are at their best when they’re handling fairly dark material with uptempo rock full of harmonies. If the whole album were as good as this song, I would call it their finest to date. Few bands are capable of pulling off songs so sublimely macabre.
The album finishes with “Light Leaves, Dark Sees, Pt. 2” Again, this is the kind of thing that Los Campesinos! does well. The term grim doesn’t really do it justice. Lyrically this song is about as sad as it gets, but the music helps to not send the listener into a spiral of despair. For me, this tune resembles “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” off of Romance Is Boring. I like that they decided to end with a downer. It reminds me of Dante when he’s talking about Empire.
As you can tell, there are a lot of things I like on Hello Sadness. But liking something isn’t enough for me to recommend it. If you’re a fan of the band, you’re gonna get this and you’re gonna like it. If you’ve never heard of Los Campesinos!, definitely don’t start here. This album feels very much like a placeholder to me, like they had some songs written and just wanted to get them out of the way. They’ve recorded four records in three years, so maybe they just don’t know how to stay out of the studio. Regardless, I’ll look forward to their next release and hope that they take some chances on it.