Hailing from a time where bands were rarely more than five members in size, Los Campesinos! made a bit of a stir when they burst onto the alternative scene with a septet back in 2006. Harriet, Gareth, Neil, Tom, Ollie, Aleksandra and Ellen got together at Cardiff University (although they hasten to add not a single member is Welsh), and their unique genre of noisy, lo-fi rap-pop - that’s a thing, right? - soon caught the attention of Radio One presenter and underground music hero Huw Stephens. The band’s music made appearances aplenty on his early-morning radio show throughout 2006, and featured alongside tiny ne’er-do-wells The Wombats and Eugene McGuinness on his year-end best-of.
Stephens spoke of a bidding war over the group, which began following a support slot with Broken Social Scene, which it turned out Wichita - formerly home to Bloc Party, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bright Eyes - won. Vocalist and lyricist Gareth would later joke the methods with which the larger labels would try to steal their affections in a column for NME. Not long after, Los Campesinos! released their debut single, double A-side We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives/Don’t Tell Me To Do the Math(s), two songs now considered sickeningly kitsch by the group themselves. They followed this with You! Me! Dancing! (which, while emphasizing their love for exclamation marks, would go on to scoop them a bit of royalty money from Budweiser).
2007 saw the release of debut full-length album Hold On Now, Youngster…, a record so perky and full of spunk it could make the grumpiest of men nod and smile if only for a second. It may not be to everyone’s taste - the scuzzy guitar, the violin solos and the heavily English vocals make sure of that - but it was a novel way to introduce the group to the world. It even received a mammoth 8.4 from Pitchfork, which is no mean feat, and remains one of my favourite albums of all time.
As time went on, LC! continued to evolve musically and lyrically as they grew more world-weary and experienced. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed saw the light of day in October 2008, released as an “extended EP” but expressly not a collection of “B-sides and rarities or songs that weren't good enough to be on the album”. Although ten tracks long, it is never classed by the band as an album, and frankly doesn’t really feel like one. Like a second-hand tent, it’s a bit mismatched, has a few holes, and lacks a few pegs and ropes to hold it all together. Nevertheless, the songs it contains are well worth a second, third, even tenth listen.
For the next record the band travelled to Stamford, Connecticut, to record with John Goodmanson in-between a tour of North America. Shortly after finishing Romance Is Boring, second-vocalist Aleks left to continue her university studies. The record was the last to feature her vocals, and is easily the most targeted piece of music the band have ever released. It’s long - fifteen tracks, not including the iTunes bonus - but feels whole, and swaps cute and twee for raw and emotional while remaining lyrically and sonically visceral, like a sirloin milkshake. It also features Plan A, a song about moving to Malta to represent the national football team, which is just as mental as it sounds (and highlights Gareth’s almost obsessive love for sport).
It was now that the group started to really shift their sound, and to do so were forced to rework themselves as a band. A number of members left and were replaced, for a number of different reasons, before the group set up shop in a tiny village in Spain to record album number four. Hello Sadness is notably a far more subdued affair than featured on the group’s previous work. Gareth’s vocals are still a bit squiffy but he shows off a newfound range and sounds altogether more composed and mature. A bit like the rest of the band, in that sense. The one downside for me personally is, now that the second vocalist is Gareth’s sister (Kim), the two-ways can no longer possess the strange sexual tension they once did in previous work. Because that would be strange.
LC!, then. A band based in Wales but not Welsh, writing songs mostly equating love to life and breakups to death, placing football on a pedestal very nearly as tall as relationships and circling around the southern English dulcet tones of one man and his friend (and later, sister). They’d very much be the musical equivalent of Marmite had that cliché not already been used a thousand times; if there is one thing this group is not, it’s a cliché.