Romance is Boring
(Wichita/Arts and Crafts; 2010)
By Andrew Hall | 11 February 2010
Los Campesinos!‘s first two albums, released within eight months of each other in 2008, were the sound of kids in their early twenties making relentless, strikingly good pop music about being unabashed music nerds. The second of those two albums, We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, showed that the band had refined and improved upon almost every aspect of their sound; within a year they had confirmed that they would matter beyond a first album like one of their early points of comparison, Art Brut, has yet to. There appeared to be dynamics, smarter song structures, and better, hugely quotable songs about important issues—like singer Gareth’s experience of finding his ex-girlfriend with someone new while they listen to his favorite band’s most popular song, uncertain as to which detail, the boyfriend or the music, bothers him most. Through moments like that, as pathetic as they should be, the band’s second album quietly crept its way into my (and everyone I know’s) heavy rotation in spite of our occasional inability to separate their basic sound from the contemporary pop-punk we all knew and hated.
Romance is Boring tries very hard to be a bigger, more ambitious, noisier version of We Are Beautiful, and it recreates whatever internal turmoil its creators felt by simply being a fucking mess. The band pushes in every direction at once, gives every song five sections and five choruses, and buries their best ideas in sonic muck for no reason, as if their being fans of noise-pop means that they have to flirt with those sounds, too. Gareth’s lyrics push at intricately detailed first-person narratives, but for the first time ever they occasionally turn both unsympathetic and infuriating. In short, it’s a tumultuous, chaotic listen, a sprawl of almost equal parts great ideas and wholly unnecessary ones.
First track “In Medias Res” demonstrates this perfectly. It opens with an acoustic guitar, then quickly swells to include strings, glockenspiel, and anything else they could find a way to cram into the song’s arrangement. Then Gareth comes in and delivers one of his best narratives, one probably about drunken sex in the back of a girl’s car, atop his best melody, which is itself sitting atop a sheet of noise. However, the song then transitions into a minor-key middle section that still sounds more jarring than necessary, and while the band certainly achieves that effect, it makes returning to the first section’s melody, as the song does, so much less compelling.
Something like that gratuitous B-section happens often. “Plan A” is delivered through heavily-distorted vocals that render the song’s lyrics incomprehensible, seemingly at odds with Gareth’s approach to lyricism (provide as much detail, as specifically as possible); while there’s nothing wrong with incomprehensible lyrics, neither the melody nor the arrangement can hold the song together without them. “I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know” is overlong, built on several sections, most of which are buried under a layer of noise they didn’t need to be, and “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show-Me State” needs stronger melodies to truly merit revisiting.
The one moment that the band gets absolutely right, however, is “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future.” Gareth elevates the melodrama of his lyrics—a narrative about a girl’s eating disorder that expands to a chorus that ought to be trite, but instead proves all-consuming—and every new element and production technique that the band flirts with elsewhere is focused here into something vital. The vocal and guitar noise helps the crescendo that becomes inescapable during the second verse and erupts in the chorus hit even harder, and not a bar sounds wasted.
“This Is A Flag. There Is No Wind” also gets points for the shouted “Can we all please just calm the fuck down?” that opens the song. At that moment, Los Campesinos! summarizes the basic problem with this record: they no longer play music that calls for everything to be moving at high-speed all at once, yet the band still hasn’t grasped how to arrange these songs so as to minimize their wasted space. We Are Beautiful ran barely over thirty-two minutes, this album hits around fifty and is exhausting in a single sitting. Yet cutting down this record to something more digestible seems difficult—for some reason these songs have problems that can’t be solved by skipping tracks as much as they could, hypothetically, by skipping within tracks, were that not such an infuriating approach to listening. This album is a misstep, certainly, but an exciting one nonetheless; I can only hope that eight months from now this band bangs out another shorter record superior to this one in every way.