Since their inception in 2006, Welsh indie rock outfit Los Campesinos! have had a fairly workmanlike approach to making music, churning out roughly an album a year and even putting together their own zine, Heat Rash, each issue of which comes with new music for the diehard fans who subscribe. And while the band’s sound has steadily evolved across four full lengths and a collection of EPs, LC! has never strayed too far from their core sound. An LC! track is always instantly recognizable as the work of Los Campesinos!: frontman Gareth David emotes breathlessly over the twee-inflected ruckus of his bandmates, an indie-pop mélange rooted in power-pop guitars and garnished with strings, horns, bells, synthesizers, and the occasional glockenspiel. The Los Campesinos! creedo has always seemed to be: whatever a song needs to get itself stuck in someone’s head for days.
Things are a little different this time around. It’s been almost two years since Los Camp have issued a new album (not counting A Good Night for a Fistfight, the live album released earlier this year). Lyrically, “What Death Leaves Behind”, the first single off the band’s forthcoming record No Blues, still scans as a Los Camp song. Gareth delivers snarky, sarcastic lines while playing the part for which fans have come to know and love him: the hopeless romantic whose string of failed relationships has left him too jaded for hopeless romanticism. What’s changed here is the music underpinning Gareth’s wiseguy despair. Whereas previous Los Campesinos! songs have always mined the artier side of pop music – more indebted to Pavement and Xiu Xiu than anything you’d hear on your car radio – “What Death Leaves Behind” is big, loud, polished, and straightforward.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Guitars rush ahead unstoppably. The rhythm section is tight, almost to the point of pragmatism. The slick synth line that leads the charge is a bona fide earworm. Big name pop-rock bands would kill to write a song as catchy as “What Death Leaves Behind”. But for a band as consistently great as Los Campesinos!, catchy isn’t good enough. Nearly everything they’ve ever written is catchy, and absolutely everything they’ve ever written is more sophisticated than “What Death Leaves Behind”.
“What Death Leaves Behind” is by no means a bad song. This reviewer recommends you download it ASAP. He himself has listened to it at least ten times today. The song may be simple and readily digestible, but it’s also viscerally affecting and perfect for a high-speed, windows-down sing-along. Plus, Gareth turns in one of his best lyrical performances to date, covering everything from cheap motels to the tautological nature of “true love” to soccer matches without ever feeling aimless. But, still, “What Death Leaves Behind” leaves something to be desired. That’s new for a Los Campesinos! song, but it isn’t the kind of new we want from our artists.