Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes


The music I grew up with is a decade old now and that terrifies me. In my mind the late 2000s were a beautiful period of experimentation and growth and honest, unabashed wonder. I was swept up in the pitchfork content mill and every major release felt like an event and another bud on these vast musical branches I was incredibly eager to claim as my own. I jumped from Yo La Tengo into Animal Collective into Deerhunter and beyond. Everything felt and still feels like it was contributing to a staggering musical epoch that ended, coincidentally, once I grew up a little and stopped reading pitchfork and started clinging to every morsel of free time like it was the last I’d ever grasp.

My point being, I can no longer look at music from that time as something I am a part of. I look at it through a fog of nostalgia and history and distance. Animal Collective’s Strawberry Jam was monumental for me, but now it triggers a bit of a mind itch: this album about adulthood and parenthood and mature anxiety connected way more with 15-year-old me than it ever would if it were released today, even though I can absolutely relate to it more now that I’ve experienced its subject matter.

This is similar to the crisis of self that Los Campesinos! explore on their new album Sick Scenes. They were as much a part of that pitchfork era as anyone, and they are one of many many names that solidifies my feelings about that era of music. But now they are older, wiser, and no longer a part of a cresting musical wave. They face a much larger and more important question than any of the ones brought up by my nostalgia trip; why do we go on?

It should be said that this question has a very obvious answer: because they make great music. They always have. They continue to. Every single song is still so packed to the gills with clever/dumb wordplay and shoutalong choruses that notions of timeliness and variety seem wrongheaded. Los Campesinos! make Los Campesinos! albums and they show no signs of stopping.

The difference with this one is that there is an acknowledgement of the passage of time in a way that feels like a line has been crossed. The band are now oldsters and they know it. Every Los Campesinos! album will now be released by a band in at least their 30s. Are we still going to be getting xylophone-and-hand-clap jams out of these guys and gals when they’re pushing 50? I hope so. Doubly so if it results in more gentleness like the intensely touching “The Fall of Home”. And it’s not just the puddlejumping strings that hook me here, it’s the lyrical perspective. This isn’t a song from a youth’s point of view, it’s a song to a youth. A knowing pat on the back from a father figure. It shows the band holding the door to adulthood open for another rather than pushing it open themselves (or busting it down with baseball bats, depending on your interpretation of their back catalogue). It sticks with you.

The more upbeat numbers do too, natch. They stick in the same way LC! songs have always stuck.

A tossed off bit of wordmash slams you in the head on the 3rd listen and leaves a grin even as you shake your head at the absolute gall of it all.

 

My favorite here from the song-as-extremely-specific metaphor “Renato Dall’ara (2008)”: “But things change, now Stella’s a lager and boy she is always downed”.

Amazing.

To try to tie this all together, this band makes me feel young even when they’re telling me that we’re all getting old. Picture me in the leather jacket and studded belt in 2017 holding the sign: “blog rock’s not dead”.

9/11


The first time I heard “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future” was at a cafeteria table in Northfield, through an Apple earbud proffered by a girl from Denver. We were at Carleton College for a writing program, living in the dorms and attending classes. To give us an idea of what school would be like.

I remember the low volume, the spindly guitars and soft stepping drums, cello unfurling, Gareth Campesinos! beginning a tale of teenage grief and angst that I would later find unbearably painful, before I was ready to face it—but lunch was swiftly coming to a close. Classes beckoned. It wasn’t until later that I listened to “The Sea” in full, at “full” volume.

It’s one of my favorite LC! songs; it’s made its way into many conversations and playlists in my life. But years later, it’s the smallness of that first listen I remember. Not quietness. Songs like that are never quiet, because quietness implies diminishment. No force could moderate “The Sea” once it became memory to me.

It seems (in theory) a waste rehashing a band’s catalog in what should be a focused, perspicacious review of their latest effort, but I bring it up because I’d heard that song in what was, for better or worse, the twilight of my adolescence, which is a wonderful time to get into LC! in my opinion. And their latest, Sick Scenes, incidentally, is a pretty good entry into the band’s catalogue, if you weren’t around for that first cacophonous starburst of ’08, or didn’t have your telescope trained right the first time.

Adolescence: fetid, dolorous, excruciating, uncomfortable most of the time. It’s a time for being overwhelmed, for finding solace from the overwhelm as it washes over you. LC! get that. It’s their idiom, and they ply it well with irony, wit, and verve. It’s no mistake that one of the songs on Sick Scenes is called “Got Stehdhal’s,” referring to the psychosomatic disorder where one essentially breaks down in the face of great beauty. Maybe that’s what’s struck down the young woman on Sick Scenes’ cover.

Sick Scenes covers much of LC!’s previously established stomping grounds: disastrous love, frustration, football, and prescription drugs.

 

Characters who aren’t fucked up or damaged are poised to be, or are trying to find some interstice of peace. The music rollicks and rolls; it’s by far the most streamlined studio effort LC! has put forth, especially compared to the shambolic sprawl of something like Romance is Boring. Of special note is Gareth’s singing, and especially his shouting—check out the final movement of “5 Flucloxacillin” and be awed.

In tenor, it kind of reminds me of Hello Sadness, which I’ll defend until the end of time and like Hello Sadness brims over with choice lines, like the chorus on lead single “I Broke Up in Amarante” (“It seems unfair / to be a rotten horn of plenty”) or the depressing formula that echoes through “The Fall of Home” (“The rise of rent / the fall of home”).

Oh were it only the opposite! But that’s not the LC! way, and they won’t let you forget it.

7/11


Artist: Los Campesinos!

Album: Sick Scenes

Released: Feb. 24, 2017