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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Los Campesinos!: "Hold On Now, Youngster..."

If you keep up with the hype-mongering indie rock blogs and sites out there, then you're probably familiar with the name Los Campesinos! The band, formed just barely 2 years ago in Cardiff, Wales, has been making the rounds, so to speak; drawing rave reviews from almost every music publication that has had the opportunity to hear their music. Sporting a distinct "we don't give a f*** what our music sounds like" attitude, Los Campesios!'s music is lo-fi, messy, raw, punk-influenced indie rock that is just as plagued with missed notes and shoddy performances as it is with genuinely awesome sounds that are either squandered or shot to hell by all the other nonsense that is going on. No, I'm not going to be hopping on the Los Campesinos! bandwagon any time soon, which is unfortunate because the exclamation points would make much more sense if I did.

The band released their Sticking Fingers Into Sockets EP a few months back, and to be completely honest, it wasn't that bad. I found the band to be unique, catchy, and a lot of fun to listen to. Call me crazy, but perhaps it's the small dose of Los Campesinos! that made that EP much more enjoyable than this album. From the very first second, the band is out to assault your ear drums with obnoxiously loud and messy instrumentation, vocals that aren't anywhere close to being in key, and an audio mix that screams "Hey, check out what we were able to do with just one $5 computer mic and a copy of Windows Sound Recorder!" They rarely let up, and even when they do, they are more than happy to break the silence with more of the same nonsense.

That's not to say that Los Campesinos! is a flat-out terrible band. On the contrary, I find them to be highly talented and entertaining despite their more notable flaws. The instrumentation, though unpolished and far too cluttered, is actually very good when taken in individual parts. The guitars, for example, are almost always a blast to listen to. Background vocals and shouts are perfectly presented and a welcomed addition. The problem with everything lies when the band tries to do too much. Just because there are 64 tracks at your disposal doesn't mean you have to put every one of them to use! Even, "You! Me! Dancing!," with it's wonderfully catchy sound just becomes too much to handle by the time Tom (or is it Garreth) Campesinos begins hurriedly talking over the chorus. What's the point? Sure what he's saying it somewhat funny, but musically it doesn't make sense. Why squander a decent song with something that is completely out of place?

I understand that Los Campesinos! probably isn't shooting for the same aesthetic that I'd like for them to put forth. That's fine with me. In fact, there are several songs on Hold On Now, Youngster... that I'm more than okay with. The aforementioned "You! Me! Dancing!" is one of them, as is the loud, yet sweet, "Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(s)," with its varying styles and levels of momentum. Likewise, "Drop It Doe Eyes" is so fun and catchy that I've found myself listening to it on repeat out of sheer joy! Of course the album's best song is also its first (never a good sign). "Death to Los Campesinos!" has been around for a while, so such a thing makes sense. It's also the album's most polished track. However, despite this handful of good songs, the total package that is Hold On Now, Youngster... just seems to disappoint. Whether it's because of the true lack of diversity on the album, or just the flaws of the vocalists that go from "real and charming" to "a god-awful annoyance," I haven't yet figured out.

Maybe I just don't "get it." I'm almost positive that the band puts on an amazing live show (I mean, they have to, right?) and that the basis of their appeal lies in their ability to convey the madness of their music to a live audience. My lack of ability to fully embrace Hold On Now, Youngster... as a quality piece of music probably has a lot to do with the fact that I haven't experienced such an event. While, I sure would love to, all I have to judge Los Campesinos! on at this point is an album that is decidedly over-hyped and disappointing. The band is young, talented, and they have a lot of room to grow into something that is more generally appealing. Until that time, however, I'm left with a quirky letdown of an album; one that I'll soon forget about and place on my CD shelf right next to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's debut album, where an uncertain future of dust and gloom await.

Key Tracks:
1. "Death to Los Campesinos!"
2. "Don't Tell Me to Do the Math(s)"
3. "Drop It Doe Eyes"
4. "You! Me! Dancing!"

6 out of 10 Stars

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