Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Grown-up, soul-bearing, but there’s still a knowing wink to the collective’s fifth full-length.

Label: Heart Swells / Turnstile / Wichita

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It’s pretty much a scientific fact that the best bands mix emotional resonance with a sense of humour; a raised eyebrow, a knowing wink and some self-deprecation among the pathos. It’s one of the reasons why The Smiths were so great. And it’s also why Los Campesinos! are a rare band to cherish.

As if to prove the point, on ‘No Blues’, they even have a song called ‘Cemetery Gaits’. And this mix of humour and melancholy is never more felt than on centrepiece ‘Glue Me’. Full of football analogies and heart-wrenching poetry, it’s a soul-baring ballad featuring the line ‘People laughed and called it folly / But we connected like a Yeboah volley’. Going beyond being a grand epitome of Los Camp’s appeal, it leaves its mark, climaxing with the chant ‘Ex-boyfriend give us a song’ which somehow sounds both communal and dejected.

‘No Blues’, then, isn’t the joyful, burden-free record the title hints at. Indeed the title itself is taken out of context – ‘There is no blues that can sound quite as heartfelt as mine’, goes ‘As Lucerne/The Low’. Neither is it a radical departure from the Los Campesinos! sound. The production might have gotten a little slicker but the ingredients for making their sound have remained pretty much the same.

Big shout along choruses and a record seemingly preoccupied with thoughts of death - no surprises there. The first line to ‘What Death Leaves Behind’ (see!) runs ‘I was the first match struck at the first cremation / You are my shallow grave,” while ‘Cemetery Gaits’ has Gareth meditating on what lies ahead for him behind the curtain.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t new things to find: ‘Avocado Baby”s cheerleader ending and a cappella Glee-chant is fabulously weird. And ‘The Time Before the Last Time’ sounds near hymnal, a synth line fluttering underneath with lyrics about ‘sons and daughters washed away’, it builds into something epic. It ends with the motorik beat and insistent piano of ‘Selling Rope (Swan Dive To The Estuary)’, as Gareth cries for help but with the final realisation ‘there’s no ticker tape nor pearly gates’.

But that morbid punchline just seems to underline the fact that ‘No Blues’ is a record of some scope. It’s one gripped with thoughts of death and yet somehow it’s is the very sound of being alive. Los Campesinos! are a band who’ve clearly grown up, but here, that’s only a good thing.