Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
It's staggering to consider how prolific Los Campesinos! has been since the band released their debut full-length, Hold on Now, Youngster..., in 2008; less than four years later, Hello Sadness is their fourth album (along with a rather impressive array of single releases and b-sides). Even more staggering is just how much the band has evolved musically in that span of time. To play the dark, brooding Hello Sadness next to the buoyant, youthful Hold on Now, Youngster... makes for a stark contrast in both mood and complexity. Yet, at the same time, both sound distinctly like Los Campesinos! albums, impossible to mistake for anything else. While Gareth's vocals have deepened and become less erratic, his acerbic lyrics more introspective and mature and the infectious melodies subtler and more experimental, these essential elements that set the band apart from others of their ilk still remain. "By Your Hand" and "Hello Sadness," with their bouncy choruses set off by rather depressing lyrics ("It's only hope that springs eternal/And that's the reason why/This dripping from my broken heart/Is never running dry"), are among the catchiest songs the band has ever concocted; they also display a stunning amount of depth, building on the heightened emotional resonance of last year's Romance Is Boring. In fact, the heart-wrenching "To Tundra" brings to mind one of that album's late highlights, "The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future," with its gradual build-up to an impassioned finale, which finds Gareth pleading in a wounded wail, "Take a body to water/Take a body to tundra/Just take me with you as well." Also memorable in the second half of the album are "The Black Bird, the Dark Slope" and "Baby I Got the Death Rattle," the latter for Gareth's characteristically self-deprecating and humorous lyrics ("You are an angel, that's why you pray/And I am an ass and that's why I bray") and the former for its soaring chorus, a rare solo moment for Gareth's sister, Kim. As a replacement for former female vocalist Aleksandra, she is utilized mostly for harmonies throughout Hello Sadness, which makes her raspy, slightly soulful turn in the spotlight all the more delightful. At only ten songs, Hello Sadness is a much more compact affair than its predecessor and it is also much more consistent, without a moment of filler. It is the band's most accomplished album to date and it'll be a difficult one to top - though I think the members of Los Campesinos! have already proven they're quite capable of outdoing themselves time and time again.