No Blues by Nina Posner
I used to be incredibly emo because I allowed myself to wallow. For example, after school, I would take the train back home, even though it took twice as long as the bus, because then I could be alone and watch the city go by. At that time every single person on the Internet aged 14-18 was emo too. We enabled each other’s wallowing. Because of the Internet I found Los Campesinos!, a band that I could only describe as “using a lot of glockenspiel” for lack of better terminology. They fucking got it. How was it possible to feel so much and never have experienced anything at all?
Later, in the fall of my first year of college, they released a new album, a pointed departure from the sound I had come to expect. My first year of college I didn’t make any friends until November and so until then wandered around that small town in California listening to the singles and then all of it, over and over again. That spring I took a class in which I felt very young but pleased with myself, we were learning about rock and roll writing. I still had yet to experience anything at all but the professor read my work to the class one day. The first assignment was an album review and I wrote about LC, what else.
Los Campesinos! are not twee anymore. The term “matured” may be subjective, but yes, lead singer Gareth Campesinos!’s voice has gotten lower since 2008’s Hold On Now, Youngster. And the band’s once-trademark glockenspiel melodies and general breathlessness have transformed into the best kind of production-heavy anthems, sensitive and desperate and hopeful. They’ve always made music about love, then love and death, then love and death and monotony, but now, with 2013’s No Blues, death seems lighter, more comfortable; not as a last urgent “swan dive into the estuary,” but more of a putting it off for later, welcoming it eventually and naturally.
I don’t think about death that much I guess but I do think about monotony a lot. I have been living in London for a month and some and like two years prior I am finding it hard to make friends. You don’t need that many friends though and I do have some. I have Internet friends here that I’ve known since I was 15 and loved this band and so did they. We were operating in parallel spheres and I don’t think I ever quite thought they were real, yet here we are.
First listen through the album: “For Flotsam” is a catalyst of an opener, combination bright and bleak, like day-old snow. It’s the first song of theirs to take place in a nightclub since 2007’s breakout single “You! Me! Dancing!” But instead of Gareth being worried about his talents on the dancefloor, he’s falling hard for a girl with whom he’s discussing politics and nihilism. Ah, the evolution of a softboy. Fourth listen through the album: “As Lucerne/The Low” soars over a blue ocean, maybe the same ocean as Romance Is Boring’s “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future,” but this time, the sun is high in the sky. It’s about embracing sadness and finding your true self in it, rather than drowning in silent melancholy. Sixth listen through the album: it’s become clear that “The Time Before the Last Time” is about masturbating in the shower, but never has such a mundane and pathetic act been depicted in so grand a fashion. This is not unfamiliar subject matter for a Los Campesinos! song, but this time around, the topic seems serious and almost inspiring. The entire song is built on a huge symphonic crescendo of dreamy synths and loud mournful horns and what sounds like a distorted church choir singing unintelligibly.
It is 3 pm or 15:00 or whatever the fuck and after admiring the two shot glasses of flaming Sambuca for quite a while they end up splattered in the sink. We are sitting at my friend’s table in his childhood home sixteen stops south of where I live, and I tell him to put on their first album. We sing along, adopting Gareth’s whiny affect and screaming. I feel safe; someone else felt like I did when I had not experienced anything at all.
Although the general vibe of the music has changed, there are still a few reliable constants here for die-hard fans. The songs are studded with obscure British football, history, and pop culture references. Gareth’s always been one of those Jeopardy! guys: he knows a little about a lot. You might have to look up who Bela Guttman is or why Gareth wants to sleep with Neptune’s wife Salacia. And while Gareth brings his droll breadth of knowledge to lyricism, Tom Campesinos! brings a focused depth to production. He pitches up and distorts vocals, loops synth track after riff after bassline, and overall defines the album’s very sound. It’s the most crisp and together record they’ve ever created.
I tried hard to make this review sound good. Even though I’ve been writing about music for years I still don’t know how to describe it technically. I’m not a musician, I just feel a lot of things and that’s what I can talk about. It used to bother me but now I’ve learned that the discourse of music writing, like all other forms of discourse, is dictated by men who seek to make everything into a concept. So I don’t feel bad about it; I’ll write about music in whatever way I want to. No canon no rules.
Los Campesinos! were first really happy, then really sad, and now they’re slightly less sad. If twee music can be thought of as pure, unfiltered happiness, then whatever genre No Blues falls into is layered emotion: we hear the band dealing with their feelings somewhat pragmatically and a little more maturely, if you will. Hello Sadness came out two years ago to mixed reviews, but this new album is called No Blues. Its cover is bright pink. They’ve gotten back on their feet and are ready to be a band for a while longer. As Gareth sings, they have flowered again.
I suppose I keep waiting for something to happen because I think in absolutes and realize that even though I think I like change I hate liminality. I don’t wallow anymore in part because I stopped listening to sad music so frequently. I’ve been avoiding going back to therapy for a year and a half, the same amount of time that I’ve been listening to “weird club” music almost exclusively. I wonder if I’m repressing. Instead of writing about things I enjoy I write about things that make me mad and find my default state is to be frenzied. I have had experiences. I have no chill. I have some blues.