Girls, be warned: If you become romantically involved with Gareth, the charismatic and brutally honest singer of British indie-rockers Los Campesinos!, you will almost certainly end up the subject of one of the group’s high-energy yet increasingly dark pop songs.
And it might not be pretty.
Considering the band’s penchant for over-punctuating phrases with exclamation points, their Ramones-like adoption of “Campesinos!” as every member’s last name and such momentous lyrical statements as “the international tweexcore underground will save us all,” it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that the band’s lyricist is given to diary-entry confessionals. Sometimes it’s endearing, as in their awkward-dancing anthem “You! Me! Dancing!” Sometimes it’s cryptically hedonistic, as in their bombastic track “There Are Listed Buildings.”
In other songs, though, it’s uncomfortable and masochistic. In “Baby I Got the Death Rattle,” a cut from their new album, Hello Sadness, Gareth sings about burning his own flesh with a Zippo and drawing phalluses in snow to represent every girl who wouldn’t partake in sex. It might be over-the-top, but it’s true, Gareth says.
“I’m sort of becoming contractually obligated to let anyone who becomes involved with me know that it’s an inevitability they’ll end up in a song,” he says, speaking from his home in Wales. “There are instances when a girl has shied away because of that, which is completely understandable. But a couple have liked the idea of having a song written about them, and maybe that’s something you should avoid. But nobody’s ever been particularly mad.”
There are plenty of detailed personal accounts of problematic relationships on Hello Sadness. There’s also a song about the agony and ecstasy of football (that is, soccer). But what’s most notable about the album is that it shows the band’s—Gareth, Ellen, Rob, Neil, Tom, Jason and Kim— more diverse and nuanced side. Their previous album, 2010’s Romance is Boring, comprised a sprawling 16 tracks that ranged from two-minute punk-pop bursts to string-laden torch ballads. Hello Sadness is more concise, with only 10 tracks, yet no less ambitious.
Among some of the album’s highlights are “By Your Hand,” in which chirping keyboards and elegant horns give way to lyrics about fantasizing about being murdered, and “To Tundra,” an understated post-rock number that ranks among the group’s prettier ballads. In many ways, it’s an extension of the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink indie-pop they’ve crafted all along, but it’s refined and allowed to breathe.
“Going into the record, it was important not to over-think things too much,” Gareth says. “We looked at our back catalog and wondered, Where do we go from here? We don’t want to second-guess ourselves. But looking back, we kind of felt Romance is Boring was a bit overlong. Our main aim was for something a bit more concise, and more precise as well. Strip things back a little bit. We have a tendency to err on the side of excess.”
In the past, a dark streak ran through many of their songs, but it was undercut with a sense of humor or irony. They’re more explicit on Hello Sadness, with Gareth addressing topics like depression head-on, as on the gorgeously bleak anthem “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope.”
“I think part of it is inevitably losing my sense of humor as I got older,” he says. “I’m at a stage when I feel quite old, so I tend toward the darker side of things. In the context in which the record was written, I was suffering from a nasty depression and had just ended a relationship that I was in. My headspace was gloomy and solemn, so the lyrics and the mood kind of followed.”
That isn’t to say it’s all a total bummer; nor has Los Campesinos!’s sense of humor disappeared. On “Songs About Your Girlfriend,” a characteristically infectious rave-up, Gareth sounds downright cocky as he sneers, “You did not like us ’cause your girlfriend likely does / and all your friends agree on her soft spot for me.” But he’s quick to point out that there’s a funny, if slightly uncomfortable, story behind that, which may have lost the band a handful of fans through a love triangle or two.
“Three girls I’ve dated—and the relationships ended quite happily—through some coincidence have gone on to date someone who had been fans of our band,” Gareth says. “There have been some pretty big fans who turned on us pretty quickly, probably from embarrassment.”
Whatever the fallout from bleeding in song, listeners shouldn’t expect Los Campesinos! to self-censor anytime soon. Gareth says that honesty is the best artistic policy.
“Both the beauty and the devil are in the details,” he says. “When the point of a song hits home is when you pinpoint or elevate something deeply personal.
“I endeavor to be as honest as possible.”
Los Campesinos! play with Parenthetical Girls at The Casbah on Sunday, Feb. 12.