Left of the Dial: Los Campesinos!

Welcome to Left of the Dial, I bring you the music because the radio won’t. Tonight’s band is brash, sincere, silly, stupid, danceable, catchy, quirky, enraging, enlightening, audacious, tenacious, and all sorts of other big fancy words. This is Los Campesinos!

The average rock band has a standard number of about three to five members. Sometimes a band will create a sound that’s so big that it can’t be contained with just guitar, drums, bass and vocals alone, so they’ll recruit a few extras to make it work. Bands like Parliament Funkadelic, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Chicago, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire and Slipknot have so many members that they seem more like mini orchestras, bringing in an eclectic variety of instruments that add a little twist to their already big sound. Los Campesinos! seems dwarfed compared to other “big” bands, and the only “odd” instruments in their arsenal are the violin and glockenspiel, but this Welsh septet can still belt it out and will make sure they’re heard whether your ears can take it or not.

The seven original members (Gareth on vocals and glockenspiel, Aleksandra on vocals and keyboards, Tom and Neil on guitars, Ellen on bass, Harriet on violin, and Ollie on drums) came together at Cardiff University in 2006. Donned with the name Los Campesinos! (Spanish for “The Peasants”) and changing their surnames ala Ramones, they quickly developed a unique blend of indie rock, post rock, dance and pop combined with a sincere yet bratty attitude that could only be expressed in songs with titles like “Sweet Dreams Sweet Cheeks”, “A Heat Rash In the Shape Of the Show Me State”, or my personal favorite, “This is How You Spell HAHAHA We Destroyed the Hopes and Dreams of A Generation of Faux Romantics”. Because of these elements, they’ve had comparisons to groups like Pavement, They Might Be Giants and Broken Social Scene, the latter of which took them on their first tour and signed them to their record label. They quickly gained a following on MySpace and the EPs, Sticking Fingers Into Sockets and International Tweexcore Underground, cemented them as one of those groups who present themselves as what they truly are: simple music enthusiasts who decided to combine the best elements of their favorite groups into a gumbo of playful shouts, buzzing guitars and glockenspiels.

Their lyrics, if their song titles weren’t already an indicator, are a bit unconventional and don’t always make sense, but have a sense of both sincerity and fun that you don’t see in a lot of bands. (I like to think of their lyrical style as a cross between Beck and Fall Out Boy.) Nowhere is this more prevalent than on their 2008 debut album, Hold On Now Youngster…, a love letter to individuality, smarts, pathos, silliness, and everything that indie-rock has built itself around since its was first conceived. It enforces their punchy and high energy instrumentation, particularly on the band’s most famous song, “You! Me! Dancing!”. The lyrics tend to be a bit spontaneous and erratic, but the specificity of their word choices still make their translation as clear as day. (Although I think you’d be hard pressed to tell me what the words to “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats” mean.) The songs are also strongly held together by the combined vocal styles of Gareth’s Cockney shouting and Aleksandra’s pretty tenor, which coil and intertwine around each other like two morning glories, particularly of the more emotionally vivid songs like “We Are Accelerated Readers” and “Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks.”

Not even a year later, Los Campesinos! quickly released their follow-up, a mini-album entitled We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, and toured relentlessly in support of it, quickly gaining notice in North America. While it was relatively short, it expanded on their instrumentation, taking inspiration from Blur, Guided by Voices and Modest Mouse, particularly on songs like self titled track and “Miserabelia”.

2009 and 2010 proved to be years of changes for Los Campesinos!, particularly in the band’s lineup. First off, they did something that would seem crazy for a band that has a ton of members: add more members. In this case, the addition was Rob “Sparky Deathcap” Campesino, a multi-instrumentalist who filled in on all sorts of instruments whenever the occasion called for it (which was often). Later that year, Aleksandra announced she would be leaving the band after they finished recording their next album, Romance Is Boring, temporarily leaving the band without their female voice. This would quickly be remedied with the inclusion of Gareth’s sister Kim on vocals and keyboards.

That same year, Los Campesinos! teamed up once again with producer John Goodmanson (Pavement, Wu Tang Clan, Death Cab for Cutie), who had also worked on We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed. The result, Romance Is Boring, was released in February of 2010 and was, as Gareth described, “A meditation on death and sex.” This statement was as serious as you’d expect, as the lyricism has dug itself out from the bottom of the avalanche of metaphors, getting straight to the point with their purpose. The self titled track and “These Are Listed Buildings” convey both of these themes nicely, but the band’s emotional precipice has to come in the song “The Sea Is a Good Place to think About the Future”, which expresses a universal fear: seeing someone you love go down a path you can’t follow and not being able to do anything about it.

In the meantime the band has kept itself busy by publicizing in some rather unusual ways. In early 2011 they released a fan magazine called Heat Rash, which featured exclusive 7 inches and MP3s of songs that can’t be obtained any other way. They also announced the departure of drummer Ollie and violinist Harriet just months before the release of their new album, Hello Sadness, which comes out this November. So far, only two songs have been leaked, the self titled track, and this one, “By Your Hand”, an ode to self degradation and false romance comparable to a kiss with a fist

While Los Campesinos! is definitely younger compared to some of the other bands I’ve looked at, they’ve maintained a name for themselves in a short time. Sometimes their lyrics can be alienating upon first listen, but if you welcome them in, they’ll have you dancing and singing along before you know it. For tour dates and other info, check out this website. http://www.loscampesinos.com/ This has been Left of the Dial, I bring you the music because the radio won’t.

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