One could be excused for wondering why Los Campesinos! are still making records at this late date. When they burst onto the scene in 2007 with a bracing batch of singles -- that sounded like it took the studio engineer's intense concentration to corral the unbridled excitement and frantic energy that came flying off the band like a technicolor rain shower -- they seemed destined to burn brightly for a little while, then burst. Fast forward a decade and they've released their sixth album, Sick Scenes, and it's hard to reconcile the mature, slickly produced music on display with the music they made in their early days. Some constants do endure, like Gareth's lacerating lyrics, the massed vocals in the choruses, the occasional glockenspiel, and a few songs that hit hard sonically and emotionally. The production does what it can to gloss over the emotions with slickly layered guitars and keys, but it can't always contain Gareth's biting vocals or keep songs like "Hung Empty" from taking flight. Unlike their previous album No Blues, the production and the band fight to a draw. The group brings enough aggression (see the opening ranter "Renato Dall' Ara " for proof of that) and passion to the songs that every now and then they break through the restraints they're shackled with to make a heartfelt impression. Tracks like "I Broke Up in Amarante" and "Sad Suppers" have all the fury and feeling of their early work, plus the benefits of life experience and a little bit of wisdom. The flipside is that some of the songs don't win the fight, and are instead sunk by the weight of the overstuffed arrangements. There's not much excitement in heavy songs like "Flucloxacillin" or the modern rock radio-ready "Got Stendahl's," and the quieter songs and ballads are too slick to make much of an impact. It all makes for an unbalanced listening experience, one that only the most dedicated Los Campesinos! fans will likely want to undertake. For anyone else, Sick Scenes might be a little too over-produced and undercooked, despite the moments when some of the band's old thrills poke through the fresh coat of paint.
Sick Scenes Review
by Tim Sendra