Album Review: A cure for the blues

Erase any preconceptions that you had about Los Campesinos!, because they are probably not the band that you think they are. Formed by seven students at Cardiff University in 2006, their early recordings are characterised by yelped vocals, haphazard drumming, and zealous use of glockenspiel. Thanks largely to the single ‘You! Me! Dancing!’, which continues to soundtrack Budweiser adverts, the band attracted a small fan-base that has continued to grow. To be a Los Campesinos! devotee is to be a member of a cult comprised of over-sensitive, over-emotional, football-fanatics.

No Blues, the collective’s fifth album, is worth your attention. They are a tougher band now, shedding the puppy fat of their messy earlier work, their 2013 sound is much more direct and pop-orientated. No Blues houses big, lovely hooks;  first single ‘What Death Leaves Behind Me’ is basically ALL chorus, and ‘Cemetery Gaits’ relies upon buoyant synths and driving drums to elevate it to an euphoric climax. Every song is extremely melodic, then, but the song structures are also more interesting and fully developed. ‘Let it Spill’ and ‘As Lucerne/The Low’ twist and turn, stopping and starting where you don’t expect, whilst ‘The Time Before the Last Time’ builds from a lush, hymnal beginning towards a growling, angry vocal delivery from songwriter Gareth David. It is the most musically diverse album – and simultaneously the catchiest – that they have ever recorded.

The album’s real calling card is Gareth’s lyrics. He writes perceptively about love, death, and God, but his main inspiration flows freely from his self-proclaimed love of all things football. This usually works, as on ‘Glue Me’ when he intones that ‘we connected like a Yeboah volley’ (YouTube it if you’re not familiar, though you must have seen it: it is one of the best goals ever scored in the Premier League).

There is also the song title ‘A Portrait of the Trequartista as a Young Man’. This reference, to both James Joyce’s semi-autobiographical novel and the attacking-midfield position made famous by Alessandro Del Piero, will probably provide Los Campesinos! haterz with fresh ammunition. This is a band that has always been derided for being too pretentious, or too knowingly referential. But on No Blues the smugness has (mostly) disappeared. Los Campesinos! want you to come with them on this fun, death-obsessed record.

Will No Blues convert the naysayers? Probably not, but it’s good enough. Tell your friends.