“I think we realized we just like making pop music,” said Los Campesinos! frontman Gareth Campesinos of the Welsh band’s new album in a recent interview. It’s not that the previous album, 2011’s Hello Sadness, deviated greatly from the highly melodic, ramshackle energy of earlier releases. But that album, written in the aftermath of a breakup Gareth experienced, lacked some of the charm of other Campesinos releases. “I think Hello Sadness might’ve been missing a bit of a wink [that other albums had],” said guitarist/co-producer Tom Campesinos in that same interview.
The wink is back on No Blues, beginning with the title. Taken on its own, in all caps as it is on the album cover, it stands defiantly against the impulse to wallow. Yet it comes from a line in “As Lucerne/The Low,” where Gareth sings, “There is no blues that can sound quite as heartfelt as mine,” a rallying cry of the ultimate navel-gazing pity party. But Los Campesinos! has always been far too self-aware to sing something like that without sarcasm. In the next verse, Gareth mocks his purple prose, adding, “For sweet nothings from the lips of a gargoyle / Nobody ever yearned.”
Gareth has always excelled at wry turns of phrase, and Los Campesinos! seem to be at their best when crafting effervescent pop. In “Avocado, Baby,” No Blues has the band’s best song since the ebullient “You! Me! Dancing!,” and “What Death Leaves Behind” ends triumphantly, with Gareth proclaiming, “We will flower again / I have surely seen it / We will flower again.”
Such optimism is surprising considering Los Campesinos! nearly called it quits at the end of 2012, with the departure of founding member and bassist Ellen Campesinos. Down to only three original members and no permanent bassist, the sextet decamped to Bethesda, a small town in north Wales, to shut itself off from the world for six weeks with co-producer John Goodmanson (who also produced Hello Sadness). For the first time, the band had enough time to work out lyrics and vocal melodies without rushing, which likely buoyed No Blues’ lighter mood.
Where Hello Sadness seemed like a more mature album, No Blues finds Los Campesinos! getting a better, more pragmatic handle on aging: Growing up doesn’t mean giving up on what you’ve loved. Sometimes you just like making pop music.