To borrow a phrase from a clothing line, Los Campesinos! are the for-us, by-us band of the indie-rock set. The Welsh band arrived disheveled and decently formed on their 2007 EP, Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, ready to win over the bespectacled, introspective, tight-jeaned, music-blog jockeys that they themselves were a day before the EP came out. Then they signed to a label that all indie-rock bands wish they could be on (Arts & Crafts) and cut a hyper-literate debut called Hold On Now Youngster… that essentially was an album about indie fandom targeted at indie fans.
Now Los Campesinos! are looking to flit light-speed past the typical stumbling block to prolonged indie-rock superstardom -- the vaunted sophomore album -- by banging one out in the same calendar year as their debut. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is the result, and instead of being ecstatic at the prospect of his band joing the ranks of his heroes, frontman Gareth Campesinos! sounds down-and-out, pre-eminently concerned with love and its byproducts (heartbreak, your girl cheating on you, etc.). As a result, We Are Beautiful holds up as more cohesive album than the band’s debut, transcending any implications of a slump.
Gareth tosses himself headfirst into heartbreak on We Are Beautiful, using the same sloppy confessional lyrics he used to describe K Records mixtapes on Hold on Now. “As if I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend/ Who by the way I’m still in love with/ Sucking the face of some pretty boy/ With my favorite band’s most popular song in the background,” he shouts on “It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song for the Other Kurt),” before struggling to decide on what’s more upsetting: the fact that his girl is with another guy, or the fact that he’ll always think of her making out with that guy when his favorite band’s song plays.
On the album’s title track he tries to find happiness in physical interaction, but he decides he’s doomed to feel more in love with his girl than she’ll ever be with him, ultimately deciding (via band chant), “We kid ourselves/ There’s future in the fucking/ But there is no fucking future.” He also compares love to being vampires on “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing,” and worries about being too obsessed with a lover on “Miserabilia.”
Gareth’s heart-on-sleeve specificity could come off as a weakness -- he is singing almost exclusively about himself -- but somehow he’s able to make his navel-gazing lyrics work for everyone. Pete Wentz, say hello to your competition.
But as the lyrical focus changes, the music stays the same. Los Campesinos!’s music still sounds out of breath, and they sound like they’re always on the verge of getting off-tempo and beating the shit out of each other for messing up. That type of abandon works the best on the title track and closer “All Your Kayfabe Friends,” but when the band members try to slow down and show some restraint -- the unnecessary instrumental “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sun” and “Heart Swells/ Pacific Daylight Time” -- it seems like they’re just padding the album with down-tempo afterthoughts.
Along with Hold On Now Youngster, Los Campesinos! have made what may be the year’s most complete debut: the statement-of-purpose first album and the improved, re-configured follow-up. We Are Beautiful might not be the pinnacle for Los Campesinos!, but it does prove they’re rapidly on their way up.
Perhaps Web 2.0's first tried and true band (as in most of their musical reference points were discovered through the net), Los Campesinos! are following up their solid 2008 debut Hold On Now, Youngster with another blast of hyper-literate indie-pop with We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, set to to hit U.K. shores on October 27, and the U.S. on November 11. The album finds Los Campesinos! delving into similar topics as Hold On, such as records, relationships, and the fleeting nature of youth. If the first few tracks from the album are any indication, We Are Beautiful crackles with the same vitality and looseness that made Hold On one of 2008's best surprises.
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