LC! may have matured, but the essence of what’s made them a cult band remains.
Noel Gardner 2011
Depending on your level of commitment to these guys, with their strange public image that manages to be both inclusive and insular at once, the fourth studio album by Los Campesinos! is either more of the same, or an attempt to usher in a new era for the band. That is to say, they still make busy, winsome indie-rock with glockenspiels and lyrics that border on the uncomfortably oversharing. Yet the seven-piece have been through a number of circumstantial changes which have informed this album’s themes and sounds.
As well as having three members leave since their last album, early 2010’s Romance Is Boring, the group currently have no fixed location: they formed in Cardiff, having all moved there for university, but a majority are now based elsewhere. While Hello Sadness was recorded in rural Spain in spring 2011, the idyllic setting was tempered by LC! frontman Gareth dealing with a recent breakup. His lyrics were comprehensively rewritten to acknowledge this, and are heavy with loss and longing, magnified by minutiae like bus numbers and pub names (respectively: By Your Hand and Baby I Got the Death Rattle).
Gareth is never going to be a ‘great’ singer, in the technical sense, but his precise enunciation works well with his verbose words and LC!’s musical marriage of the twee and the dramatic. At certain points – such as the title-track’s chorus and the verses of The Black Bird, the Dark Slope – he recalls Robert Smith. While his stubbornly awkward band are unlikely to write generational rock anthems to match, they appear more purposeful than before, leaning more towards the swelling chorus and earworm refrain. To this end, when a turn is taken to the folky and low-key on Hate for the Island (the shortest of these 10 songs), it stands out, in a positive way.
Anyone who previously scorned Los Campesinos! for their unbending indieness is unlikely to be converted by Hello Sadness. However, the feeling is of a band, often self-examining and self-critical, becoming more comfortable in their skin. Maturity and sonic streamlining hasn’t removed the essence of what gave them their cult following.