Indie rock is terrified of its emotions. After all, exposing the bitters and sweets of your heart – showing that you actually, truly, deeply care about something – is completely and overwhelmingly uncool. And indie rock wants nothing more than to be cool. This is why we have so few great indie rock songs about breakups, about trying to fall in love, about dealing with ones inadequacy. It's why so little indie rock seems excited about much of anything.
These are the problems that Los Campesinos! seem to be constantly fighting, both in themselves and in the indie universe. These are secret problems for those who have given themselves over to indie culture, the oily murmurs of hearts that were long ago buried under the bed with Ace of Base CDs and stuffed animals.
While Fleet Foxes' debut LP was the album to beat in 2008, few new artists played with the heart and fire that the Welsh septet have tapped into. The exuberance of Hold On Now, Youngster prompted PopMatters to proclaim it to be “as close to a perfect debut this decade is likely to see.” Both Youngster and its follow-up, which was released a mere eight months later, were received with overwhelming praise from the oftentimes overstuffed and bored music press.
If that all sounds a bit quick, a bit confusing, a bit over-the-top, and a bit too ambitious, then it's only par for Los Campesinos!'s course. Both albums struggle to reel themselves in, bursting with frenetic energy, piles upon piles of instruments, and Gareth Campesinos' slurry Welsh vocals. The band push jangly noise guitars together with violins and xylophones, stapling on anthem-level group-shouting and Gareth's morning-after bark. These are the songs of failed love, and unlike Stars' more hopeful romanticism, these relationships were doomed from the beginning. The songs flail with both the pains of unrealization and the excitement of new opportunity, often at the very same time. Things fall apart. The whole thing ends up sounding something like Sufjan Stevens at full-throttle, redlining out his whispery vocals and shredding his oboe down into punk guitars and feedback.
What Los Campesinos! are doing is actually as simple as it is brilliant: they're playing indie rock as if they were punk rockers. The group, who stole a trick from the Ramones playbook and adopted Campesinos as their collective last name, play ornamental indie rock with the intensity one normally finds in the sweaty all-ages clubs. The wall separating artist and audience that punk famously tore down and indie built up bigger and better is nowhere to be seen. This is urgent, honest music that rips with compassion and conviction, that tricky footing that indie rock is sorely missing. This is what it would sound like if everyone suddenly stopped caring about being cool.
Whether singing about his fear of dancing or his fear of turning out like his father or the limits of his ability to live out his political ideals, Gareth Campesinos seems to have tapped into the hard-to-find heart of the indie scene. Judging by his lyrics, one gets the impression that Gareth is one of the few hipsters who is comfortable with calling himself a hipster. That distinction has deeper implications than it may seem; not for nothing is their second LP titled We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. In Los Campesinos!, we have a band who is not only making strange and wonderful and innovative music, but a lyricist who is willing to drag all of our self-made images into the light to examine them. This sort of raw honesty is almost completely absent in indie rock, because it makes for incredibly vulnerable music. And while some may take this rout into sad-sack acoustic folk, Los Campesinos! are not afraid to shout out loud, to show emotions deeper and more complicated than oh-lonesome-me. In a culture that would pride itself on its standoffishness if it could only muster up the emotion, they are very much an anomaly. If Hold On Now, Youngster and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed sound familiar, it's because these albums exist in the asphyxiating hearts of every hipster. These are all of our secret fears and discomforts exposed for the beautiful, doomed mess that they truly are.
- Marty Garner
with Titus Andronicus
Tue, Feb 10; 8pm, Ladies Lit
$10 public; $5 w/ Calvin ID