Nearly 10 years after their debut LP, Los Campesinos’! sound may have developed but not their message. The band’s influences are the same. Gareth Campesinos’! lyrics about death, depression and football are nothing new, but are perhaps darker than ever. Overall this creates the platform for ‘Sick Scenes’ to show how place is disorientating. As put in ‘I Broke up in Amarante’, a “home away from home” is not always a good thing
‘Sick Scenes’ may have similarities to the band’s first offering ‘Hold on Now, Youngster…’. The indie pop that initially brought their fame has given way to a darker sound – comparable to Built to Spill at times. Intricate guitar parts create an undulating sound – something that Los Campesinos! have always aspired to, citing their influences in an interview with Rich Hughs in 2010. They achieve it with some success on this album – especially on the penultimate track, ‘A Litany/Heart Swells’.
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The gloomier sound has not changed their bleak lyrics – which deal with an obsession with death. The release of death is romanticised as shown by the last line of ‘A Slow, Slow Death’, as Gareth sings, “There’s a slow, slow death if you want it / Yeah, I want it”. The entirety of the album discusses the fine balance between love and death. But it also deals with how location and certain situations can be disorientating.
The band recorded the album in Amarante – a small town in the north of Portugal. Fittingly the Campo do Cavalhal, an abandoned football stadium, was located next to the band’s recording studio. This is symbolic of the band’s two favourite subject matters – death and football. It explains a theme throughout the album – scenes of victory and failure. Football stadiums are spaces which host both. The opening track, ‘Renato Dall’Ara (2008)’, alludes to victory. It is the name of Bologna FC’s stadium and scene of England’s win over Belgium in last 16 of 1990 World Cup.
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Instances of potential joy are presented in disorientating manner – as described in ‘Got Stendhal’s’. So in awe of a woman’s beauty, it causes an onset on Stendhal’s Syndrome – a disorder that causes rapid heartbeats and dizziness, when confronted with an experience of great personal significance. But as their own Portuguese stadium is abandoned – it is the epitome of bleak. It can provide neither victory or failure and therefore no catharsis – paving the way to yearn for death as a release.
The consistent themes, which have been evident in the band’s whole catalogue are clear on this album also – from lyricism to the album artwork. Los Campesinos! present the fine balance between love and death which is familiar territory. The change of location for their recording does not necessarily mean a change of direction in terms of the bands music but rather a gradual progression. Thematically and lyrically, ‘Sick Scenes’ examines places that host scenes of extreme emotion, which have a deep personal resonance.
‘Sick Scenes’ is out now via Wichita Recordings.