I must confess that this review may be biased, I give my unwavering (in the literal sense, not the Leicester F.C sense) support to all things Campesinos! I feel as though I have grown up as the band and their style have, albeit a few years behind them. Hold on Now Youngster… and We are Beautiful, We are Doomed at this point seem a lifetime ago. Back in the late noughties LC! were the first name on my teenage angst mixtapes, and are at the forefront of my survival playlist in times of existential crisis and depression. Although the music is mostly excitable and upbeat, Gareth’s lyrical mastery of the mundane leaves him a torchbearer for the downtrodden, the stroppy, the pissed-off and the inexplicably sad.
The pink drenched artwork, designed by their own Rob Campesinos, follows the colour scheme of No Blues, but Sick Scenes doesn’t completely follow sonically, instead, it embraces all five of previous albums styles, and creates a masterful conglomeration of all things Campesinos! It’s their best produced record to date, though there is a lack of scratchiness and a The 1975 style riff in ‘Got Stendhal’s’ which leave them at risk of tripping into glossy over-production, but they narrowly escape. The raw emotion, witty lyricism, punchy guitar, signature choral sing-alongs and endless football references now synonymous with the band, leave us with a high quality album number six. They’ve seemingly cherry picked the best moments from their back catalogue, and remoulded them into older, differently paced furies, remaining solid in their anxiety. The record was written in Amarante, Portugal during England’s abysmal soccer performance in last summer’s Euro’s. The album documents the downward depressive spiral that comes out of this dismal football, prescription medication, reliance on alcohol and growing older amidst a fading temptation to search for any meaning.
Opener ‘Renato Dall’Ara (2008)’ is an immediate classic, a chorus of “ooohs” nestles itself alongside droll insults, a fear that the band’s musical presence is now unwelcome in the world after four years, and a despair at the limitations of a bourgeois lifestyle. ‘Sad Suppers’ is a toe-tapper, with thumping drums, a capricious guitar solo and a chorus vocal peculiarly reminiscent of Bloc Party’s Kele. It describes getting high/drunk while simultaneously having a melancholic epiphany and vomiting into our own hands. A song that encourages us to go to a beach for our own personal version of ‘The Sea is a Good Place.’ Lead single ‘I Broke Up in Amarante’ is an angry tale of life marred by poor football and using alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism in the constant search for the elusive perfection of the “two beer buzz.” ‘Here’s to the Fourth Time!’ catches Gareth troubled by the meaninglessness of his existence, his fear striving him to procreate as a means of motivation, the dreamy hopefulness gives way to anger in the final seconds of the song, our singalong turns into an aggressive outcry of desperation. ‘5 Flucloxacillin’ and ‘Got Stendhal’s’ document inescapable anxiety, unable to be eradicated by prescription medication despite “trying them all,” Gareth proceeds to impugn baby-boomers for creating the mess millennials exist in, chastising the idea of reaching their age and purposelessly becoming what he despises.
Los Camp! ballads show the more intricate disparaging side of the band, ‘The Fall of Home’ shares the difficulty any 18-35 year old understands, of visiting your decaying hometown while struggling to exist with the financial pressure and loneliness of your new life. ‘A Slow, Slow Death’ similarly allows us to shed a tear, and delve further into despair at growing old. This time Gareth’s stuck, loveless, settling for something much less. The façade of “initials in a heart tattoo,” resulting in the slow drawn out life and death, rather than a happy purposeful existence.
Los Campesinos! have created another charming set of inclusive songs, we’re no longer depressed and hopeless unaccompanied, stewing alone in our anxiety, but we’ve become part of a wider felt dread. Sick Scenes is more pop focussed, multi-instrumental and playfully embellished than their previous albums, but infectious earworms and lyrical witticisms make it unmistakably theirs. It feels as though they have reached a turning point, their musical evolution may never be completed, but this is a collation of everything that has come before, a self-evaluation and rounding-off exercise, arguably giving them their strongest album to date.
Admittedly I was always going to struggle to not turn this into a love-letter to the band, however even for the sake of impartiality I find it difficult to criticise specific elements of an album so bare-souled, delicate and sharp in its giddy energy. LC!4LYF!
Listen: ‘Renato Dall’Ara (2008), A Slow, Slow Death, 5 Flucloxacillin