Shortly before Los Campesinos! released their third album, Romance Is Boring, frontman Gareth put his famed glockenspiel up for auction on eBay. Part of his motivation was charitable—by selling the instrument to the highest bidder, he raised 435 quid to be put toward Haiti earthquake relief efforts. Yet as he explained in a characteristically wordy and witty rant, he never really planned on being the Glockenspiel Guy, and it was only a borrowed prop to keep busy between verses anyhow. He also noted that nobody starts playing the glockenspiel in the hopes that it will attract women, which may partially explain the ever-present sexual frustration in his lyrics.
But dropping the glock may have unintentionally (or intentionally) been the most brilliant thing Los Campesinos! could have done in introducing their third album. Farther removed from the sugar-fueled twee explosion of their first album Hold On Now, Youngster, but still surging with youthful energy, Romance Is Boring is the group’s most accomplished album. And whatever semblance of childlike glee the band once had in spades has been toned down in favor of a subtler, more dynamic approach. Gareth remains the ecstatically neurotic and angst-ridden frontman, but his sex- and death-obsessed quips are backed by 13 dense and musically diverse arrangements (plus two interludes), made all the more explosive courtesy of John Goodmanson’s production. As such it’s an ambitious but cohesive work, balancing the spunky singles of their debut with the off-kilter structures of second album We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.
Whereas in the past, Los Campesinos! primarily preferred soaring toward a climax at the most hair-raising speeds possible, here they frequently opt for the subtle satisfaction of the slow burn. Eschewing the instant gratification of a “Death to Los Campesinos!” or “Ways to Make It Through the Wall,” leadoff track “In Medias Res” is a prettier, more slowly unfolding mini-epic that gorgeously escalates toward a brassy climax and Gareth’s cheeky questions regarding mortality: “If you were given the option of dying painlessly in peace at 45, with a lover at your side, after a full and happy life/ is this something that would interest you?” There’s a stunning string intro to “Who Fell Asleep In,” which finds Gareth describing sexual encounters inside a church. And in four of the album’s most breathtaking minutes, “The Sea Is A Good Place to Think of The Future” juxtaposes a brilliantly immense rock arrangement with a breathless lyric narrating, among other things, anorexia, the death of a loved one, politics, class disparity and “1000 years of perfect symmetry.”
It’s easy to point to the album’s slower, more measured compositions as evidence of how much the band has grown in a mere 24 months. Yet their high-energy rock numbers reveal just as much complexity and advancement. First single “There Are Listed Buildings” contains a familiarly fast-paced rhythm and hyperactive melody, but with far greater depth. There’s a horn section, Hammond organ, and some Isaac Brock style tremolo effects, not to mention an instantly lovable “ba-ba-ba” chorus. The title track, however, is a much more muscular rock anthem, with a chorus that’s less giddily cute and more ferocious. If there was any doubt that the group was able to pound out a badass rock song, this should adequately prove otherwise. The brief “Plan A” even finds Los Campesinos! hammering out a viciously dissonant punk rock song, and a damn good one at that.
The band’s embrace of enhanced sonic depth, subtlety and nuance really only serves to emphasize just how many high points arise throughout the course of the album, and on Romance Is Boring, there are far too many to count. Gareth combines two favorite topics—sex and music—on “Straight In at 101,” spitting the snarky plea, “Let’s have more post-coital, and less post-rock/ feels like the build-up is forever, but you never get me off.” Elsewhere, the band’s strengths perfectly mesh on “I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, So You Know,” transitioning seamlessly from Gareth’s verse to now-former bandmate Aleksandra’s beautifully ethereal chorus. And I’m still laughing with amazement at the group shout of “Can we all please just calm the fuck down!” on “This Is a Flag. There Is No Wind.”
Every Los Campesinos! album kicks up a furious cloud of dust. Yet as time goes on, the dust settles just a little bit more, bringing greater clarity to their methods revealing something much more substantial than the din and clamor of a large group of talented Welsh youngsters. Gareth may still sing from the perspective of a frustrated young man just trying to keep his shit together, but he seems less frazzled and a bit wiser than he was a year ago. As a band, however, Los Campesinos! have never sounded more confident.
Video: “Romance Is Boring”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.