Los Campesinos!

No Blues

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When Los Campesinos! burst onto the indie scene in the late 2000s, they were a rambunctious (more or less) half-male/half-female crew who madly ran through their songs like they were chasing rainbow-puking unicorns. The results, like the song "You! Me! Dancing!," or the album Hold on Now, Youngster..., were wild, unpredictable, and the best kind of indie pop. As time passed and more records hit the airwaves, the group's sound evened out as they grew and members came and went. By the time of 2013's No Blues, they were down to one female member, and playing music had become more of a career option than a mission. The almost giddy highs and heartrending lows of their songs and sound have flattened out, and this album feels more like a quarterly report than a heartfelt missive of pain and excitement. Some of the blame has to be laid at the feet of longtime producer John Goodmanson, whose style doesn't lend itself to excitement. He paves over all the bumps and smooths out all the rough spots until the album shines like a freshly polished gem. Only instead of sparkling, it just reflects past glories without any real thrill or feeling. The rest of the blame sits squarely on the band, especially vocalist/lyricist Gareth who seems to be writing exactly the same song he's always written about the same subjects, and singing them in the exact same breathless style as always. Relying on puns and verbal trickery ("Glue Me") rather than spilling his guts, this is one of the first times he truly sounds like he's phoning in his angst and woe, and it's not a good fit. The band's approach to the songs lacks any real imagination too, with nothing happening that hasn't happened before on a Campesinos! record in far more exciting fashion. A couple songs have some bounce and bite, like the ferocious and danceable "Avocado, Baby" or "What Death Leaves Behind," and the sweeping ballad "The Time Before the Last Time" has some cinematic appeal that threatens to soar before Gareth's ever-earthbound vocals bring it down. Mostly though, the law of diminishing returns is in full effect on No Blues. The band's previous album, Hello Sadness, was something of a return to form after the really stiff Romance Is Boring, but No Blues can't keep up the energy and fire that the band began to stoke. Its flame flickers at best, and the feeling of deja vu that pervades the album means that los Campesinos! need to change something before they hit the studio again, or the next record will be an even more faded copy of their glorious early days.

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