Interview: Los Campesinos
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Grave, and with a diminishing sense of geographical identity; the album focuses on figures drifting apart whilst living on the move, whether through the American South, Mexico or across the Alps and the Andes.
Along the way, relationships are enacted and dissolve in church pulpits, on front lawns, on the road, by the sea. Gareth Campesinos! (each member adopts Campesinos! as their surname), the band's singer, glockenspiel player and emotional core relates the frustrations that inspired their work: "A lot of the record is about loneliness and separation and they are two things that are prevalent for me when on tour… it heavily affects the ability to live 'a normal life'…and it makes it an impossibility (for me) to start a relationship".
The (English) septet formed in Cardiff in 2006, sounding peppy, literate, and sweetly punk. With their first full-length Hold On Now, Youngster, full of off-beat rhythms and dense wordy interplay between Gareth and Aleks, the band were bursting with vitality and ideas. But despite all the giddy, skittering songs, there were always sad undercurrents present. A prime example was 'Knee Deep At ATP', where the sharp guitar solos are interspersed with a violin and Gareth beautifully documenting a boy's discovery that his girlfriend cheated on him at the Butlins music festival. And while the stopgap We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed (an EP that inflated to LP length) signified a move into grievous territory for the band, Gareth's lyrical lead set an altogether darker tone for RIB, with death creeping in and the characters often settling for lust over love. He admits the progression toward the album's caustic tone was assured: "I've changed a lot since writing the lyrics to [Hold On Now, Youngster], which was written in the excitement of being in a band and skipping lectures to rehearse and play shows…it's the experiences and emotions of the last few years that have doubtlessly led me to this point."
All tracks on RIB are conceptually linked and form a loose narrative, but the scenes are staggered, almost adhering to the cut-and-paste technique. Tellingly, the album opens with 'In Medias Res', a soft song following a couple with their relationship in mid-flow, the narrator waking from a nightmare in a car's backseat and realising things are probably too good to last. Gareth realises the album's plot may be hard to follow: "I've convinced myself that if the album was listened to in a certain order…tells the story of one relationship from beginning to end. It does, I'm sure. Some songs veer closer to the narrative than others, but the events unfolding in each song are relevant to where things end."
The scattered narrative is both an interesting ploy and a necessity, because the pace of RIB varies frantically. For every sharp, rousing song ('There Are Listed Buildings') or quick searing dose of punk ('Plan A'), there's a gentle interlude or hazy waltz ('Heart Swells' and 'Who Fell Asleep In' respectively) and the need to manage all these styles is clear: "This is the first record we've made where we actually entered into writing songs knowing that there was going to be an album at the end of it. So we wrote songs considering how they'd sit together on a record, and how they'd play a part in [both] the oral, and aural, story of the album."
Lyrically, the cast of "maybe three" unnamed figures are mere outlines, their recurrence being intentionally opaque and easy to miss. But the occasional turn of phrase serves as a reminder of a character visited repeatedly, floating in and out of focus, akin to those of The Sound And The Fury. So the girl nonchalantly dreaming of a sea burial in 'Who Fell Asleep In' at the record's mid-point re-enters with an eating disorder and flippantly toys with the idea of drowning herself in 'The Sea Is A Good Place To Think Of The Future', the album's thematic crescendo that overflows with melodrama. Death (or considerations of it) is persistent and pursues the cast despite the general assertion of their youth. Clearly, Gareth's choice to work in a graveyard between tours doesn't help to dispel his sense of mortality: "I think I write the songs and worries about death so that I don't have to talk about them. I'd love to be in a mindset where I'm not plagued with morbid thoughts, I really would, but it's a lot more difficult to write a happy song that people like…there's much more of a consensus on what sadness is, than what happiness is, so, really, writing a sad song is a lot more of a banker."
And really, looming dread doesn't seem so out of place when the central figures view human connections so deplorably. If there was ever an embittered scene to represent the cold attitude of someone in a stale relationship, the title track surely has it: a lover too lazy to do favours in bed, to prove that the effort, ultimately, isn't worth it. Yet in spite of the hardened approach to love and sex, that sad reflection on the difficult search for permanency in connections whilst living on the move keeps returning, and never better put than in 'I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know', the album's grandiose high point, where the longing for a lasting relationship is expounded in figure's desire to keep track of the moles that'll appear on the object of his affection. Finally though, assuming 'Coda' rightfully bookends RIB's tale, then lost opportunity is the conclusion; the characters on diverging paths, with no coincidence in their destinations. No-one wants to see that happen to partners, even when the results yield a statement as compelling as Romance Is Boring.