<i>We Are Beautiful, We Are</i><i> Doomed</i> doesn't highlight the sunny side
Los Campesinos! focus on cynicism in sophomore album.
Dec. 08, 2008
I worry for Los Campesinos!, but not for the reasons you think. It's not because they've overused the exclamation point (see: band name, "You! Me! Dancing!") to a point that would have warranted a near-lifetime ban for almost any other band in my book. It's not because it's a 2007/2008 blog-sensation band that had the audacity to release its (sort-of) follow-up album a mere seven months after its critical darling of a debut Hold On Now, Youngster....
No, the beautiful and seemingly effortless indie-pop that Los Campesinos! have shown us makes any such musical concerns seem wasted on these youngsters. After hearing We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, I worry for the band on a human and psychological level.
If the title wasn't enough of a hint for you, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed doesn't exactly highlight the sunny side of things. And this has always been part of Los Campesinos!' charm. If you ignored the band's lyrics, its music sounds happier than The Beach Boys on helium. But once you get to the heart of it, the band's catchy and layered pop-backdrop and dueling melodies pave the way to a core of cleverly insightful lyrics that directly stand against the classical ideas of romanticism you would expect to find dwelling inside the confines of such delicate pop music. But they thrived within this balance on Hold On Now, Youngster because they were this balance. They were charmingly cynical, a quality that allowed them to shift from the belief that "The opposite of true love is as follows: reality" to the idea that dancing can cure all that is wrong with the world, if only for a night, and warrant, yes, exclamation points.
But in those mere seven months since Hold On Now, Youngster any shreds of idealism seem to have been engulfed by cynicism, and "We Are Beautiful" doesn't even need two lines to inform us of this. The songs are still just as poignant and exhilarating as ever, but one has to wonder how long can a band whose merit is largely based on semi-ironic spunk really keep up such frenetic energy if they can transition into a defeated state of numbness.
We Are Beautiful effectively dispels any thoughts of a sophomore jinx or that it would be hard to replicate the band's debut in such a short time seeing as the debut was largely a greatest hits of EPs and previous releases. Supposedly, the band already had much of the material written and knocked the album out in the studio in just a fortnight. Not only this, but it manages to maintain the essence and unstructured euphoria of "Hold On Now" while largely abandoning any reliance of singles or choruses. And while those moments are occasionally missed, "We Are Beautiful" absolutely works as a single-less album without feelings like a collection of B-sides or rushed material.
While this is essentially still the same Los Campesinos! with a stronger dose of self-loathing, the moments they do stylistically shy slightly away from their established identity do flourish on the record. The entirely instrumental "Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky" sounds like it could have been a punk-pop interpretation of one of the more dramatic moments of "Fantasia" and serves as a strong build-up to "You'll Need Those Fingers for Crossing." And the lighter and less chaotic musical backdrop to "Hearts Swell/Pacific Daylight Time" makes for a brief but beautiful moment on the record where the singer marinates on the days before he gave up on romance ("Heart swells/Draped across the sofa/Sleep well/I feel you've ruined me forever").
With We Are Beautiful, Los Campesinos! establish that they will be a relevant and endearing part of the musical landscape of the future, even if they assure us this future doesn't exist, or doesn't matter anyway.