Los Campesinos! Hello Sadness
Her red lipstick, her blue eyes. To Gareth Campesinos!, not even his cleverest of come-ons––sending stationary as a first move, decorating envelopes as foreplay––are a match for memories of her. They can’t be, not when he’s singing of the “engagement ring” he’s wearing: her rouge imprinted around one of his knuckles, a souvenir without permanence.
Los Campesinos! no longer sound like grade-school children when they sing in unison. They’re no longer rushing through playful twee-punk taunts or singing references to Toni Braxton of utmost sincerity. Campesinos! have come and gone, to pursue medical school dreams and others they won’t specify. And Gareth, the Welsh septet’s primary songwriter, is no longer relentlessly flirting––he’s obsessing over this girl with remarkable moles on her back, of now an album (Romance is Boring) and an “extended EP” (We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed) ago.
This once-hyper band is calming down, and when they’re not comparing that girl’s eyes to the sea, they’re preoccupied by the fact that they’re growing up. Still, Hello Sadness makes this reality a bit easier to accept. Slightly reminiscent of fan favorite “You! Me! Dancing!,” the album’s title track shows that Los Campesinos! still know how to build a song that escalates and falls like a rollercoaster’s initial climb-and-collapse––appropriately, too, about hopelessly falling in love. Twitter-sized musings like, “Between my waterfalls and your landslides / there’s cartography in every scar,” begs to immortalized on Etsy prints. And sometimes, his carefully-edited retracing through their initial affairs has us bracing not for the band’s sing-along choruses, but where her hands and his lips wander next. “The last time I was there / she made me wear her clothes / She painted my lips red / so that we both ensured / I kiss her every inch / My god, the girl looked like she burned,” he spills in “Songs About Your Girlfriend.” Gareth’s brutal tales have never been this easy to swallow.
Hello Sadness isn’t perfect. Gareth loves to turn a cliché on its head, though some of his plays in semantics––“You can lead a horse to water, but it won’t drown itself”––sound as if he’s trying too hard. “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope” lists ways in which the metaphorical animal mutilates his insides, which will have longtime fans sadly recalling when he sang in 2008, “Damn extended metaphors / I get carried away.” Still, Hello Sadness is a likeable, more focused compromise between the endearing, buoyant Hold On Now, Youngster! and the weightier, noisier Romance is Boring. It’s a reminder of everything they’ve done––and that every time a scab is picked at, fresh blood surfaces.