The band matures, not necessarily for the better.Like a lot of people their age, the members of Los Campesinos! have gone about documenting their 20s in an obsessive fashion. Yet amid all the dance parties, footballer worship, and vomit-strewn kiss-offs on Los Campesinos! records, there’s been a latent streak of melancholia—heard most audibly through Gareth Campesinos’ dealings with the opposite sex. The frontman reportedly ended a relationship right before recording the new Hello Sadness, and the immediacy of that breakup is perceptible throughout, as is an attempt to put a more mature spin on the Los Campesinos! version of heartbreak.
Unfortunately, Hello Sadness too often mistakes gloominess for maturity. Shafts of light poke through here and there—like on the bracing opening salvo, “By Your Hand,” and the lyrically shifting “Baby I Got The Death Rattle,” which moves from frostbit fingers to a teddy bear to Vincent Van Gogh’s severed ear in the space of a single verse. But otherwise, Hello Sadness mostly concerns itself with what Los Campesinos! once termed “Miserabilia.” Moving further from the wry, puckish persona he perfected on early Los Campesinos! releases, Gareth Campesinos adopts a singing voice with an appropriately Robert Smith-like quiver—all the better to nail the “In Between Days” anthemics of the record’s title track and the soaring Jekyll-Hyde number “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope.”
With its wiry tangles of guitars and tremulous female backing vocals, the latter track benefits greatly from producer John Goodmanson, who has experience with the Pacific Northwest indie-rock wilderness. While the band’s size and the relative chaos of its arrangements once made Los Campesinos! an obvious fit for Broken Social Scene conspirator David Newfeld, with Goodmanson, the band has been able to harness its sound into a sharper, more focused attack. (It probably doesn’t hurt that the band’s roster has slowly but surely assumed more confident and competent musicians.) Ultimately, that development marks Hello Sadness’ true signs of growth, all while keeping the record from sinking under the bloat of inflamed lyrical tissue.