Pink is totally in. Or so would be the impression given off by eccentric Welsh six piece Los Campesinos!, whose marketing for fifth album No Blues consisted mostly of gifs with that one linking factor. Their new album wasn’t really given a whole lot of fanfare, and seemed to have been recorded pretty much in secret (though shifting base from eastern Spain to north-west Wales will do that). So how have four records shaped the group’s sound and ideology over the past seven years?
The band’s intent, if the endless pink wasn’t a big enough hint, is shown in opener For Flotsam, which bursts into life like a fuschia blooming in time-lapse. It shows a further move toward maturity, a more polished sound, which says a lot remembering the hallowed depths of their previous effort. Promotional single What Death Leaves Behind further shows off the group’s newfound organisation, with not a note falling out of place - barring perhaps lead vocalist Gareth’s wobbly contributions that have been a staple of the group’s sound since its inception.
Even the subject matter and inspiration remains true to the script; A Portrait Of The Trequartista As A Young Man, like much of the record (and indeed their discography thus far), contains numerous references to death, blood and football, most of which are twisted and played with like lyrical playdough to make their points. Keyboard-laden Cemetery Gaits is much the same, but the sprightliness by this point subsides to make way for the real crux of No Blues’ message.
Certainly if a massive overhaul in sound was expected, some might be disappointed. But the real devil is in the smaller, oft-overlooked details. Tying down LC!’s sound has always been difficult, but what was practised in Hello Sadness has been perfected here. Glue Me uses the group’s newfound precision to drive home their world-weary outlook, as Gareth drones a metaphor-fuelled ballad over a softly flowing river of instrumental.
"I am a magpie solo, the sorrow that makes you salute, pounding the earth for the early worm, I may be a glutton but it’s good for my glutes", he mutters on the epic midsection that is As Lucerne/The Low; the song showcases a well-trained eye for melody and a good hook to propel from. It manages to become an introspective pondering with a bit of foot-tapping on the side - a concept that next track, Avocado, Baby, grabs onto and squeezes the life from like an over-enthusiastic boa. Easily the most unashamed pop to be found on the album, it almost seems like a deliberate callback to the band’s earlier, more carefree work that they otherwise make every effort to avoid replicating these days ("A heart of stone, rind so tough it’s crazy, that’s why they call me the avocado, baby"). Perhaps it’s a descent into silliness, but it’s far from unwelcome and crucially doesn’t throw off the feel of the record.
Let It Spill again goes straight for the aural jugular, which makes The Time Before The Last Time’s hymn-like sound incredibly jarring. It’s certainly a downer of a track, bringing us crashing straight back to earth - or indeed into a body of water, as it goes into Selling Rope (Swan Dive Into the Estuary), a song based on the little-explored analogy of going diving while the planet is ablaze. The tinkle of a piano in the foreground is a welcome touch (of cool water, perhaps?), and the mellowness of the closing song, building into a violently spat parting remark, is very much appreciated.
So while No Blues still stubbornly refuses to retreat back into the childish joyride that propelled the band into the spotlight - come on guys, your debut was fantastic - it is instead another stepping stone for Los Campesinos!, who are constantly maturing, sounding tighter and tighter, and offering the most candid views from the most candid viewpoint. It doesn’t reinvent the LC! wheel, it just lathers it with pink paint.
No Blues by Los Campesinos! is released on October 28 via Turnstile Records.