Funny to think that Los Campesinos! has only been releasing music for three years. Since “You, Me, Dancing” went viral in ’07, the Welsh octet has, over the course of three increasingly misanthropic albums and countless deceptively chipper singles, matured as if injected with growth hormones. Gareth Campesino! has evolved from just another faceless twee-pop wit into one of this short century’s smartest — and funniest — romance sociologists. This past winter’s fantastic (if fantastically uneven) Romance Is Boring was the band’s most lyrically dense work to date, with Gareth in such a rush to empty his stomach of bile that he often forgot indefinite articles (“You glug and you glug, saltwater from sandcastle bucket”). Problem was, Gareth’s wordplay was often inaudible over his bandmates’ glorious noise. And so the band has decided to provide its ever-metastasizing fan base with a special late-summer treat: the All’s Well That Ends EP, four of Romance Is Boring’s 15 (!) tracks rearranged into acoustic ballads, with every spiteful, self-deprecating remark crystal clear.
Since 2008’s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, Gareth Campesino! has managed to seem earnest and sensitive without succumbing to any of the earnest-and-sensitive-indie-rocker-cliches: warbly, brink-of-tears vocals, for instance, or mournfully plucked banjo. This EP has a lot of both of those things, but Gareth’s words stop it from sounding anything less than original. “I think we need more post-coital, and less post-rock,” he wails on “Straight in at 101.” Amidst the cacophony of the album version, it sounded like a scathing indictment of impotent hipsterdom. Here, it sounds like a genuine, earnest plea: Take your earbuds out for a minute and listen to whatever the person you’re with is trying to say.
“Straight in at 101” was an undeniable highlight of Romance Is Boring. As were “Romance Is Boring” and “In Media Res,” two other tracks that get a melancholic makeover here (the latter needlessly; it already was (and still is) the most gorgeous thing Los Campesinos! has composed, by a long shot). Only “Letters From Me To Charlotte” is really improved on, as opposed to reinvented. It was easy to overlook that track on the album — by the time it showed up, at track 12, the average ear was already suffering from glockenspiel-fatigue. On the EP, though, Gareth passes the mic over to one of the Campesinos! family’s newest members, the gravelly-voiced Kim (all members take the Campesinos! surname). Without all the noise — and with a gentle backdrop of guitars both plinking and strumming — you may even realize, for the first time, that this is actually a song about the aftermath of domestic violence. And a pretty gruesome one, at that, with a bruise so black “she watched it fade through the full spectrum of colors.” Gareth was right in giving this one to Kim. The female perspective makes it all the more devastating.
So, yeah, it’ll be a kick to any Los Campesinos! fan to hear the hyperactive Welshmen and women slow it the fuck down for once. I, personally, will never know what it’s like to hear these songs with fresh ears. Like countless others, I’ve listened to these tracks’ fuller counterparts too many times for All’s Well That Ends, as gorgeously arranged as it is, to be anything more than a novelty. But novelties get a bad rap. This is the sort of novelty that reminds you how much more a fantastic band has yet to explore, say, or the sort of novelty that recasts some songs you might have been getting tired of in the dying light of late summer.