Los Campesinos! – No Blues

by Matt Hacke

Here at PearShaped we pride ourselves on the quality of our music journalism – journalism by veritable experts on the genres and artists under scrutiny. This article however, may not follow this trend. Since being an occasional connoisseur of Hold On Now Youngster, sometime in 2008, I haven’t followed the progress of or indeed listened to Los Campesinos! Unsurprisingly, their sound has changed in the six-year interim; No Blues is far more cohesive than their early work, which synthesizes morbid lyrics with energetic musical arrangement.

Lyrically, the album constantly teeters between effective and ridiculous. A pervading sense of depression dominates the songwriting, with frequent allusions to the common tropes of melancholic poetics – graves, funerals and darkness are cited frequently across the work. Indeed, this overbearing downbeat tone can at times become a bit silly - As Lucerne/The Low’s refrain for example (“To bask in the darkness that I do adore”), which sounds like a quote from the basest of emo-songbooks. Yet, to dismiss the album’s content as monotonously gloomy would be inaccurate. The songwriting seems self-conscious, aware of its own depressing nature, and sporadically uses this to comedic effect. Whilst a “heart of stone” is a dour metaphor, its likening to an avocado is an intentional joke. The lyrical allusions also serve to add an extra dimension to the album’s content, especially the frequent citation of football history. My personal favorite is a choice cut from Let It Spill, in which the persona describes itself as the “Bela Guttmann of love”. When it comes to citation in songwriting, Los Campesinos!’s front man Gareth Paisley is a strange hybrid of Jeff Stelling and Ezra Koenig – a combination that works very well indeed. The songwriting in No Blues is a bizarre synthesis between a morose tone, seemingly intentional humour and cultural allusion. For the most part, this mix functions effectively.

This synthesis that encapsulates the lyrics is replicated in the album’s musical arrangements, making the entire work extremely cohesive. The early tracks are heavily layered, with prominent beats and refrains that are saturated by cascading backing vocals. The opening two tracks, For Flotsam and What Death Leaves Behind, follow this formula with particular success. To use a real rock cliché, No Blues feels ‘epic’, effortlessly so, and Los Campesinos! fit into this moniker with ease - a perk not many other acts can claim to have. My pick however is a more understated affair; Glue Me functions on a relatively obvious lyrical pun. Despite this simplicity, the track has a sense of beauty that isn’t replicated with the same purity anywhere else on the album, even if the playground chanting towards the end of the song doesn’t do much to contribute to this effect.

As a complete piece of work, Los Campesinos!’s fifth album, No Blues, has a maturity and cohesion that their early work was without. I have no gripes with the musicality of the tracks, and indeed it is only the, at times, monotonous moroseness of the lyrics that lets the album down. Yet, on the back of a few listens to this work, I’ve resolved to follow the band’s progress in the future – I hope you may do the same.