Archive for the ‘Los Campesinos!’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: LOS CAMPESINOS! We Are Beautiful We Are Doomed (2008).

This is Los Campesinos! second disc in a year (after the smashing success of their debut).

The disc opens with a blast in “Make It Through the Walls”–great male and female shared vocals as well as gang screamed vocals; and by the end: violins.  It’s like the Los Campesinos! catalog packed into four minutes.  It’s followed by “Miserabilia” a perfect three-minute pop song (except for all those rough edges, of course), but it very nicely combines melody and punk attitude.

The title track continues with the frantically happy sounding music that backs off for lyrics like “We kid ourselves that there’s future in the fucking, but there is no fucking future.”   Meanwhile, “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” emphasizes their low end, which doesn’t often get a lot of emphasis.  “It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It?” has some great violins and group vocals (not screamed for a change).  “The End of the Asterisk” is an under two-minute blast of fun nonsense (with a fun chorus).

I’ve talked about the music but not much about the lyrics–but rest assured they are just as literate and darkly comic as on Romance is Boring.  Although the titles are certainly a giveaway, none sum up Los Campesinos! as much as “Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #1” (which has some very cool sound effects thrown in too).

“Heart Swells–Pacific Daylight Time” is one of their achingly slow songs that reminds me of “The Sea Is a Good Place to Think of the Future” (I know, that song came later, but I’m reviewing them backwards).  Although this one is much shorter.  The disc ends with “All Your Kayfabe Friends” which has these fun triplet notes that ascend and descend with each line.

My copy came with a bonus DVD.  The disc contains a 30 minute home movie of the band on tour.  It’s nothing terribly revelatory, although it is amusing in places.  The home movie quality of it makes it a bit more personal, but also means that some shots are totally missed, which is a shame.   There’s also a few minutes of the band on various stages, which is quite a treat as I’ve never seen them live–they really embody their music and Gareth Campesinos! is a great front man.

At only 32 minutes, this is certainly a short release.  Wikipedia says that they argued that this was not a cash grab after the success of their first album.  And that’s believable, even if the only thing that makes this more than half an hour is the fiddly instrumental “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky.”   Nevertheless, Los Campesinos! released some wonderfully cool songs.

[READ: February 28, 2012] “Laikas”

I complained recently that although Kuitenbrouwer calls this piece “Laikas” when you click on the link to Significant Objects, it is listed as “Greek Ashtray-Plate.”  This evidently has something to do with the nature of its publication.  Although I don’t know the pre-publication information, underneath the story it says:

The bidding on this object, with story by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, has ended. Original price: 69 cents. Final price: $30. Proceeds from this auction go to Girls Write Now

So, one assumes that Kuitenbrouwer wrote this short (very short) story about the ashtray-plate–after all, the full name of the website is Significant Objects…and how they got that way–so it all pieces together nicely.

As I said this is a very short piece (a page and a half, tops) that works as a quick sketch of why the ashtray-plate looks the way it does as well as a brief sketch of its owner. The details about the ashtray-plate are wonderful, vivid and violent in ways that I wouldn’t have expected–the placement of the burns is wonderfully described.

The rest of the story is strange, though. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS CAMPESINOS!-Romance is Boring (2009).

Even though I had heard good things about Los Campesinos! before I got this album, this was the first one I bought.  I see that it gets less high marks than previous discs but I think it is fantastic.  It is frantic and catchy, it is intense and mellow, it is loud and soft and most of the time that’s in the same song.  And, as you’ll see below, lyrically I think it’s fantastic.

The disc begins slowly.  Then the vocals come in and you can tell that Gareth Campesinos!’ voice is somewhat abrasive, but well enunciated. When at the 2 minute mark the song more or less stops and turns into little twinkling bells you’re not prepared for the next bit–the guitars are noisy and the drums are loud and the lyrics are even stranger (sung in a slightly off-key style): “I’m leaving my body to science, not medical but physics.”  By the end, the song has mellowed almost completely and we have an almost a capella ending, “Would this interest you at all?”  But before you have a chance to answer that, the next song, “There are Listed Building” ratchets forth in both speakers with loud and quiet sections, group vocals and the lead singer’s more shouting style.

“Romance is Boring” has some super catchy shouted vocals as well as the first real exposure to the co-vocalist Aleksandra Campesinos!’ beautiful gentle female voice. “We’ve Got Your Back” is primarily sung by the female vocalist until the male voice come back with “and so fucking on and so fucking forth” and my favorite shouted chorus: “What would you do?  I do not know.”  “(PLAN A)” is a screaming punk blast of discord.  Until, of course, the much more palatable group sung chorus kicks in.

One of the best songs they do is “Straight in at 101” a wonderful song about breakups that is catchy and funny. It opens with, “I think we need more post-coital and less post rock.”  And then after some great alt rock, the song comes to an end with an a capella section that is quietly sung:

I phone my friends and family to gather round the television;
The talking heads count down the most heart-wrenching break ups of all time
Imagine the great sense of waste, the indignity, the embarrassment
When not a single one of that whole century was… mine

“I Warned You: Do Not Make an Enemy of Me”  has frenetic guitar and the wonderful line, “if this changed your life, did you have one before?”  And the wonderfully titled “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show-Me State” opens with this lyrical stanza:

She’d a bruise so black they watched it fade through the full spectrum of colours.
They kept it like a pet; a private joke they told no others.
And how the tissue repaired, and how it turned to yellow
And she found it disgusting, ’cause it didn’t match her clothing.
He said “that’s not yellow, it’s golden”.

Also lyrically interesting is “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future,” because how can you make this couplet work in a rhythmic way.  But he does! “At fourteen her mother died in a routine operation from allergic reaction to a general anesthetic.”

There are fast songs and slow songs and pretty sections and harsh sections.  I think they meld it all together wonderfully.

[READ: February 6, 2012] “Los Gigantes”

I think I begin every T. Coraghessan Boyle story with some trepidation.  I liked Boyle because of The Road to Wellville, but I find that most of his other stories are very Southwestern, a region I really don’t know very well.  And yet for all my trepidation, I find I do enjoy his stories.

This one has a very simple premise.  All of the largest men in the area have been offered jobs by the President (I’m not sure where this is set but I assume, if it’s not entirely fictional, that it’s meant to be in Central America).  Although the men have some freedom during the day, at night they are locked into cages.  But their job is a simple one–eat, sleep and have sex with very large women.  That’s all.  It’s kind of boring, but  they are provided entertainments.  And it could certainly be worse (wait until you see what conditions the women love in!).

Discontentment begins to settle in as they realize that they are little more than stud animals (the President is breeding them for their size for a secret army in several generations).  And so one night two of los gigantes escape (it’s fairly easy, they are very strong men).  But they basically get as far as town where the pleasures of the  town’s bar keep them from returning home.  They are caught and punished, but the punishment is not that bad because the President really wants their offspring.

The men issue demands–a nicer living situation mostly–which are met, and they are contented once more. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: HELIUM-The Dirt of Luck (1995).

Mary Timony fronted Helium for a few years.  In that time she was recognized as something of a guitar wizard–not in her speed and flash, but in the weird sounds she conjured from the instrument.

She also had very peculiar musical sensibilities (these songs are quite odd) and a cool feminist attitude.  This album features the amazing song “Superball” (one of the best songs of the mid 90s–check out the video and watch the guitarist playing the strings with a screwdriver!  Man I miss the 90s) as well as a number of unpolished gems like “Medusa” and “Pat’s Trick” (the dual vocals are very cool and the dispassionate “oh oh oh” is very interesting, plus I love the lyric about “long-ass curly hair”).

Her singing style is often quite slacker-y, like in the opening of “Medusa”–she’s not always audible, and she often seems like a kind of buzzy sound more than a voice.   She sounds like she’s singing from very far away–seemingly powerful and yet quiet at the same time.

But combine that with the cool scratchy/noisy guitar sounds she gets and she’s pulling off a very cool combination (think Dino Jr without the hooks and killer solos).

Like “Baby’s Going Underground” features some crazy shoegazer guitar washes for most of its 6 minutes which really changes the pacing of the record.  There’s also the great “Skeleton,” a riff so cool that Sonic Youth used it for “Sunday.”

She also has a way with haunting melodies as on the piano  instrumental “Comet #9” and on “All the X’s Have Wings” which sounds very medieval. I think of Timony as a guitarist and yet there is there are lots of keyboards on the album too–mystical keyboards that are fascinating and seem out of character with the guitars, but actually work quite well.   But the prettiest song is “Honeycomb.’  It’s a sweet song with a wonderful melody.  It is followed by the ender “Flower of the Apocalypse” a guitar-based instrumental that is mostly feedback but is also surprisingly melodic.

Helium had mild accolades back in the 90s.  They released a couple of albums and then Mary Timony went solo.  It’s nice to have her playing now with Wild Flag.

[READ: November 11, 2011] Five Dials Number 21

This is the first issue of Five Dials that I was ready to read when it was sent to me (I’ve been all caught up for a while now).  So that’s pretty exciting!

I was tempted to say that i enjoyed this issue more than other issues, but I have enjoyed most Five Dials issues equally.  But this one is definitely a favorite.

CRAIG TAYLOR–A Letter from the Editor: On Turning 21 and Thinking About Rock Stars and Greece.
The magazine introduction jokes about them now being legal to drink in the U.S. and also about now being old enough to run for M.P. in England.  He also tells us about their “new” section Our Town, which has vastly expanded in this issue.  He also explains that there are many rock stars on hand to give the magazine tutelage (authors that the rock stars enjoy) and three short stories.  He ends with a notice that they have gone to Greece where they are gathering material for Issue 22. (more…)

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I’ve enjoyed Los Campesinos!’s records in the past and I’m pretty excited about the prospect of a new release.  This song doesn’t deviate too far from their previous releases although to my ear it sounds a bit more musical (more instruments, more vocals) and less abrasive.  The basic elements are still there:great lyrics delivered in a more or less spoken way, followed on its heels by big shouty sections (and the whole band seems to be shouting along on this one).

This song also feels a little warmer, although the lyrics “by your hand is the only end I’ve foreseen” is either really dark or really naughty depending on how well it correlates to the verses.  Regardless, the chorus is catchy and fun to sing and the lyrics are wonderfully twisted.  Los Campesinos! have done it again.

And here’s the video.

[READ: September 16, 2011] “Jean-Baptiste Labat and the Buccaneer Barbecue in Seventeenth-Century Martinique”

I was interested in this article because it talked about the boucan and the buccaneer, and both of these things were mentioned in Book 9 of The 39 Clues.  It was a weird sort of coincidence that the boucan which I had never heard of before should appear in two things that I read about week apart (and then this weekend the Pa Renaissance Faire was pyrate themed!).   I was also interested because of the way this article was presented in the email to us: “if you have ever wondered on what foods a seventeenth-century missionary from the island of Martinique dined, check out this article from Gastronomica. (Hint: They include manatee, lizard, and parakeet)” made it a must-read.

While the article does, indeed make mention of these foodstuffs, it is by no means the extent of the article.  Rather, Toczyski looks at what Labat, a French priest and a missionary, wrote in his extensive chronicle about his stay in the Caribbean.  In particular, she focuses on the amazing breadth and depth of his gastronomical accounts (which includes details about all the meals they ate en route (the ship was amazingly well stocked–they even had a garden on board, which was under guard day and night (!); and then on the island he also talks in loving detail (with recipes) of all of the native dishes that he would eventually consume (including turtles, frogs and the palm worm (see picture at right (the picture and an awesome description of eating the palm worm is here at Boots in the Oven, at the bottom of the page).


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SOUNDTRACKLOS CAMPESINOS! Live in studio at WEXP, July 31, 2008 (2008).

For this brief in studio performance Los Campesinos! play four songs from their debut album Hold on Now, Youngster.  The band sounds great in this setting.  I don’t have this album, so I don’t know if they deviate at all from the originals, but the live versions are tight and very effective.

The interviews are informative and rather gushing (I’ve never heard a DJ kiss the ass of a performer in such a nice way before…and the band seems really flattered by it…it’s all very sweet).  The DJ also has a funny conversation about their tendency to scream in their songs.  (It’s cathartic).

What I didn’t notice so much on Romance is Boring was how many different lead singers the band has.  With these four songs, there are enough lead vocalists to show a lot of diversity (and a lot of screaming, too–“don’t read Jane Eyre!”).  And, as one might expect if you know their later disc, the lyrics are smart, funny and wicked.

The difference between Romance and Hold On, seems to be that the band were much punkier on this early disc, and that all comes out in these live tracks.  And the songs are all short: 3 minutes and under.  They really pack a lot in here.

[READ: January 13, 2011] Voyage Along the Horizon

Most of Javier Marías’ books are translated and released through New Directions. But for reasons I’m unclear about, this book, Marías’ 2nd novel, was published by Believer Books (an imprint of McSweeney’s).   I haven’t read any of Marías’ other novels, so I have no idea if this is similar to any of the others (there’s a Q&A at the back of the book which suggests that this is typical of his earlier novels), but it absolutely makes me want to read more by him.

What I loved about this story first off was the sense of distance we received from the main story itself.  (Marías is Spanish, but this is a technique employed by Roberto Bolaño (Chilean) extensively…. Obviously, others do this as well).

The set up of the story is this:  1) An unnamed narrator has a party at his house.  At this party, two individuals, Miss Bunnage and Mr Branshaw (or is it Bragshawe?–he never learns) discuss author Victor Arledge.  Miss Bunnage is a scholar of Arledge and Mr Branshaw has in his house an unpublished novel that investigates the disappearance of Arledge and why he stopped writing.  And so, Branshaw invites Bunnage and the narrator to his house the next day to have the novel (called Voyage Along the Horizon) read to them.

2) So, the next morning, the two go to Branshaw’s house where he does not let them see the book, preferring rather to read the novel aloud (which gives us essentially 3 levels of remove from the action of the story).  That’s a long way to go before you even get to the meat of the book. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS CAMPESINOS! Live in studio at KEXP, July 31, 2008 (2008).

For this brief in-studio performance Los Campesinos! play four songs from their debut album Hold on Now, Youngster.  The band sounds great in this setting.  I don’t have this album, so I don’t know if they deviate at all from the originals, but the live versions are tight and very effective.

The interviews are informative and rather gushing (I’ve never heard a DJ kiss the ass of a performer in such a nice way before–and the band seems really flattered by it–it’s all very sweet).  There’s also some fun comments about their screaming tendencies.

What I didn’t notice so much on Romance is Boring was how many different lead singers the band has.  With these four songs, there are enough lead vocalists to show a lot of diversity (and a lot of screaming, too–“don’t read Jane Eyre!”).  And, as one might expect from the later disc, their earlier lyrics are smart, funny and wicked, too.

The difference between Romance and Hold On, seems to be that the band were much punkier on the early disc, and that all comes out in these live tracks.  And the songs are all short: 3 minutes and under.  They really pack a lot in here.

[READ: January 6, 2011] The Facts of Winter

This book is, apparently, an elaborate joke.  It is set up as a book written by French author Paul Poissel.  But unlike the other things that Poissel wrote (his most famous and lasting works were written after this book), this is a collection of dreams.  Specifically, it’s a collection of dreams from random unnamed people in France, circa 1841.

The book is laid out with the original French story on the left page and the translation on the facing page.  I don’t know French, but my minimal French comprehension leads me to think that the translations are accurate.

So, each entry (most about a half a page, some stretch to two pages) is a recounted dream. I didn’t count how many dreams there were, but there’s more or less one a day from January to March.  None of them are outlandishly crazy or dirty or anything like that, but they are amusing to read.  There is a preponderance of canoes in the dreams.

After the dreams we get a lengthy Afterword (which all told, may be longer than all of the dreams combined).  The Afterword details La Farge’s work while translating and learning more about Poissel.  It is rather funny and goes into all kinds of personal details about La Farge and his ex-girlfriend as well as the friend he met in the city of Aix who takes him to all kinds of old ruins. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: LOS CAMPESINOS!-Tiny Desk Concert #67 (July 5, 2010).

This Tiny Desk show really accentuates what fun can be had with the Tiny Desk format. Los Campesinos! are an eight piece band, but only four of them could come (or could fit, anyhow) in the tiny office.  And so we get a hugely stripped down set from the wonderful Welsh band.

One of the real benefits of these Tiny Desk shows is that it really highlights the songs themselves.  I enjoy Los Campesinos!, but sometimes I feel like their songs are so busy it’s not always easy to know exactly what’s going on.  This set shows how cool and interesting these three songs are underneath all the wild sounds and effects.

It’s also fascinating to watch these four folks perform in this room with nothing to hide behind.  The singer doesn’t even have a microphone, he’s just standing there with his arms behind his back singing to a small room.  And how odd it must be to sing to a dozen or strangers the a capella ending of “Straight in at 101.”

The three tracks all come from Romance is Boring and include the wonderfully titled: “A Heat Rash In The Shape Of The Show Me State; Or, Letters From Me To Charlotte”, “Straight In At 101” and “The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future.”

As you might be able to guess from the titles, the band is wordy and articulate.  What you might not be able to guess is just how sexually explicit their lyrics are.  Not dirty (well, a little dirty) just unabashedly frank (and its made even more so in this quiet setting).

You can watch (and download here).

[READ: December 15, 2010] Echo #25 & #26

These next two books in the series are really fantastic.  Issue #25 brings the confrontation with Cain to a head.  It almost comes too quickly–there has been so much lead-up to it that when they finally meet the confrontation is (necessarily) brief and explosive.  They finally meet at the top of a mountain (where yet another really gruesome act is done to someone–although really it pales to what happened to the guy who was practically a skeleton).  The intensity of the confrontation, and the excitement of the denouement made me think that the series was just about to end.

But them comes Issue #26 in which the final panel changes the entire game!  (more…)

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