Almost exactly nine years to the day since their debut, ‘Hold On There, Youngster’ was unleashed on the world, Los Campesinos! release album number six — ‘Sick Scenes’. Over this past near-decade, the band’s transformation from C86-indebted merchants of twee to skilled songwriters and producers has been one of British music’s best and most unheralded success stories.
‘Sick Scenes’ was written in Portugal during Euro 2016, and is a lot more rousing than the events that accompanied its creation. In fact, opener ‘Renato Dall Ara (2008)’ is the closest the band have got to writing a stadium anthem, with its addictive ooh-oohs and crashing chorus. That said, the idiosyncratic LC! lyrics (“He took a hobby as a PCSO / Let me level this as an indictment / Only a part-time grass but a full-time asshole”) ensure it’s unlikely to crown an evening on the Pyramid Stage any time soon.
Whereas many bands are running out of steam and feeling a little stale this far into their career, ‘Sick Scenes’ demonstrates that Los Campesinos! still have more hunger and urgency than ever. Drums are thumped emphatically, guitars are attacked with frenzy and Gareth barks out his vocals as if his life depends on it.
As ‘Sick Scenes’ progresses, Los Campesinos! start to look inwards and the tone shifts. ‘The Fall Of Home’ is a nostalgia-filled look at revisiting an old haunt to see how much has changed, and penultimate track, ‘A Litany Heart Swells’, perfectly matches emotions of overwhelming sadness with humdrum imagery of fruit machines and chicken shops. That might sound gimmicky on paper, but it’s done with such feeling on record that the combination of the lyrics with strings and distorted drums produces something disarmingly affecting.
British guitar music has been crying out for heroes for a long time now, yet the search is only ever confined to bands who have recorded barely more than a handful of songs. The fact Los Campesinos! are consistently ignored is something of a tragedy — they write hooks, they’re inventive, they’re passionate, they can do uplifting and they can do poignant, and on ‘Sick Scenes’, they do it all with panache. If the net were to be cast a little wider, Los Campesinos! could be just what we’ve been searching for.
Words: Joe Rivers
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