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One of the albums we at TMM have most been looking forward to is the second album proper from Welsh-based-but-not-Welsh seven-piece Los Campesinos!

Having been treated to both début record Hold On Now, Youngster and follow-up-album-that-wasn’t-really-an-album-but-was-still-brilliant We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed in 2008, the wait for new material for over a year has been excruciating.

We’ve been lucky enough to get a very early press copy and our first impressions are that it’s a worthy addition to their wealth of material. It’s a darker record, somehow more retrained than their ramshackle and raw early days, but fear not, it hasn’t been polished and buffed to take all the band’s personality out of it. It’s not an instant classic like their debut was, but we can spot a grower when we see one and we’re already sure Romance Is Boring will be one of our most played albums next year. Here’s a track-by-track:

1. In Media Res: First impressions are that everything is louder. Then there’s a lovely twinkly Christmassy type breakdown part before everything goes dark and Gareth’s vocals take the listener to the depths of despair. Already very evidently a marked departure from WAB, WAD. There’s a lot more going on here, but while that experimentation brings depths to delve into over time, there’s a lack of an immediate hook to grab the listener in. As is LC!’s preference, the song’s end leads into the next track, which is…

2. There Are Listed Buildings: The first proper single from the record is probably the song on the album that sounds most like it would have slotted in on one of their earlier releases. It’s controlled mania, if that makes any sense. Just as things are getting out of control Gareth pulls on the reins, like the police turning up at an impromptu rave. Not one of their best ever singles, but a decent opening into the album and a welcome sign that they haven’t lost their teenage rebellion streak.

3. Romance Is Boring: The title track and next single starts with a fierce guitar line, the instrument that will come to dominate the record. Like the Research did for their sophomore effort, LC! have held back on the keyboards, but haven’t gone as far as to ban them completely. “Romance is boring!” shrieks Gareth in the first of the album’s ‘post-as-your-MSN-screen-name-lyrics’ but the music is pretty much bog-standard LC! fare, a background groove with some shouty vocals from a handful of the band over the top. “We are two ships that pass in the night”, notes Gareth in the album’s best moment so far.

4. We’ve Got Your Back (Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown #2): After a Flaming Lips-style wig-out opening the album is go. We get a female lead vocal for the first time, with handclap drums in the background. Again though, the vocals seem low in the mix. Previous LC! stuff has always had the emphasis on putting the sharp lyrics to the fore and we’re missing that open-heart honesty already. Gareth comes in a right mood halfway through with a right foul mouth – he needs to wash his mouth out with soap and water. We’re only kidding. We love it. “I’ve learned more from toilet walls than I’ve learned from those words of yours” mumbles Gareth repeatedly as the heartbreak returns. The track is a follow-up to one from from WAB, WAD.

5. Plan A: Wonderful intro with a staggeringly LOUD guitar line, with Gareth shouting something or other in the very dark background. Someone in the band has obviously discovered riffage. Sure to be a live favourite, on record it’s a bit overwhelming and when the guitar dips out for a second or two sporadically throughout the track it’s a huge relief. Fortunately it’s short – not sure if I like the rock LC! as much as I adore the vulnerable emo-pop one.

6. 200-102: Much more like it. A gently woozy opening develops into the album’s first of two interludes. Chance to catch your breath.

7. Straight In At 101: And we’re off again at breakneck pace. It’s tiring just to listen to it, I can’t imagine how knackering it must be to play. We get some rare boy-girl merged vocals here, a pleasure from the previous album we’ve been denied until now. It’s great, a really nice nod back to their older work without being stuck in the past. A wiggly-woo guitar bit hints at their more six-stringed based future and Gareth again controls the pace just right, switching gears effortlessly and dragging the listener along with him. The song finishes with Gareth singing acapella and in truth it doesn’t really work.

8. Who Fell Asleep In: LC! turn their hand to a ballad in this one. It could almost be the track that England inevitably go out of next summer’s World Cup to, but doesn’t quite pull it off. “I don’t mean to be selfish but I think I’d sooner be dead”, deadpans Gareth in his best Morrissey impersonation and you’re not sure if he’s joking or not. There’s a distracting, wailing something-or-other in the midst of it all that spoils it for me. Again it seems like there’s just a bit too much going on, that there’s been a lack of restraint in the studio and the band have just kept on adding layers over the top of the important components: a simple, memorable hook and Gareth’s voice. They’re fighting for space and could learn something from Arcade Fire’s approach. Less is more, even when you have multiple band members to keep occupied. Amazingly we’re only just past the half-way stage. You always get your value for money with LC! albums but they aren’t half a bit of a slog.

9. I Warned You: Do Not Make An Enemy Of Me: Track nine of 15 now and we’re back in rock territory with a ridiculously fast intro guitar line that reminds me of RATM, quickly giving way to more traditional if a little heavier LC! fare. Gareth doesn’t seem to be enunciating clearly. It’s hard to tell what he’s singing at the best of times but it’s impossible throughout this one. Then that riff comes back and frankly, I’m in danger of losing interest. I’m starting to wonder if the reason I love WAB, WAD so much is that at just ten tracks it’s nice and light, an elevenses snack. This is a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings and a whole Christmas pudding for afters.

10. Heart Swells/100-1: Another short interlude. Sigur Ros type noise with Gareth singing over the top. Nice, but a bit pointless. Sets up for another rocky intro into…

11. I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know: Ooh, some strings making a brief yet welcome appearance. Again, the vocals are buried very deep in the mix with the raft of instruments scrapping more than ever for air time. Very frustrating listen so far. At times brilliant but all too often just too ambitious, if that makes sense. They’re trying to run at Usain Bolt speed when I preferred it when they jogged along barely breaking sweat. There’s a great bit near the end when you finally get the chance to listen to Gareth’s voice and lyrics, but it doesn’t last.

12. A Heat Rash In The Shape Of The Show Me State; or, Letters From Me To Charlotte: A typically ridiculous LC! song title (or titles) and the song really lives up to it. Starts with a noise like a Dalek, drums thud in, there’s some organ in the background, then Gareth’s voice. Finally we see some restraint, the instruments are brought in gradually and there’s no haphazard throwing them all in aimlessly. The main riff recalls their early tracks and I suspect that’s why it stands out as an album highlight. Some annoying brass unsuccessfully tries to spoil it. It’s too long though, like most of the tracks on Romance Is Boring.

13. The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future: At this stage the album needs a track to lift it and it gets one at the perfect time. Released as a sneak peek back in September this track shows off LC! at their best. It starts at almost funeral pace and is the first time we really see some reflection in the music on the band’s progress. If I was a betting man I would suggest this is the direction some of the band wanted to take, while others wanted to ramp up the punk-pop, which is why the album seems like such a distorted mess at times. The track tells a story, of a girl, naturally, and the chorus is the first proper singalong of the record. Romance Is Boring should really have had more songs like this and fewer trying but failing to be rocky numbers. It’s really great. Really really great.

14. This Is a Flag. There Is No Wind: We’re warming to a theme now and it’s looking like a strong finish to the album. The first really memorably guitar hook cuts through the song, despite it sitting calmly under the surface. It’s almost like the band recorded Romance Is Boring in track order and had got the hang of it by the end. It’s rare to hear an album that has almost all its better moments in the second half but this is certainly what we get here. The shouted opening line of “Can we all please just CALM THE FUCK DOWN!?” is classic Los Campesinos!

15. Coda: A Burn Scar In The Shape Of The Sooner State: Another excellent track to round off a patchy and confused-sounding record. Perhaps it will all make sense over time but off the first few listens this writer is lost and misses his former favourite new band.

If you are new to LC! they are possibly best described as a wonderful mess. Unfortunately from the first few listens we’ve had of Romance Is Boring it appears less wonderful than usual and more messy. The seven of them make a joyous racket tinged with the kind of teenage angst you might expect from a formed-at-Uni band, but they’re so much more than that. It’s a shame Romance Is Boring doesn’t seem to show off their potency. Lyrically is where LC! come to life. Gareth’s twin couplets are often heartbreaking and delivered at such breathtaking pace that multiple listens are required in order to keep up. But far too often on this album his words are too buried to hear properly and only the most hardened LC! nuts will rewind time and time again to decipher them. It’s not an accessible album to newcomers, but it’s not a successful development of their sound either. The rock tracks don’t work at all and there isn’t much progress on the others from their first two records. The glorious immediacy of their pop EPs seems lost for ever. This new version of LC! will be much harder to love, I fear. But the final third of the album is truly majestic.

This article was written for TMM.

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