This is an indie fairy tale, so indie that managed to emerge even without NME sponsoring it.
Los Campesinos! came out of the blue (well Cardiff University to be more precise) a couple of years ago.
2008 spread their success both side of the pond despite the Atlantic (Ocean) is quite big and Atlantic (recordings) isn’t their label.
Truth is their music have been bringing happiness and dance tunes in any student unions’ bars and end of the term party since the CSS came out with a disappointing second album.
Signed by much cooler but less rich Wichita, after a couple of singles Los Campesinos! were ready and eager to publish the debut album. Hold on Now, Youngster…, came out last February, 2008. Memorize this date.
This is when I heard of them for the first time. More because NME was not praising the album (6/10) than because Pitchfork chose it as one of the few exceptions to their 2008 music horizon, now worldwide recognized as “Pitchfolk”.
An ensemble or should I write a collective, that is today’s cool word, of 7 guys driven by the desire of having fun playing music:
They clearly went the Ramones way on naming themselves. They don’t have nothing to do with agriculture (campesinos is Spanish for farmer) but with this names they have something in common with The Fratellis which is the only negative bit I can spot in them.
So far you can argue it is a pretty standard story, to which I would reply, why not?
Is it really always important to have a sex and drugs and Pete Doherty eccentricity to sponsor new rock-stars?
Los Campesinos! sing about their lives over a music that reflect their era. Good choice. Not because teenagers can’t write about something or be inspired by the 40s but because it is likely that doing what they know reflects better into knowing what to do.
With the bonus that the youngsters listening to them can identify and even dance instead of alienate.
There is always Madonna to live in a material (=polyethylene) world, and it will come the time to join someone on stage for the Bono Memorial concert happening in few decades. Prayers and lessons about life is not what student want to hear, not now.
The debut album is a mixture of danceable indie-pop that puts together their heroes, Pavement, and the new trend of Brit-indie-pop flavoured with some electronic-dance bits (and beats). Together with the alt.folk or whatever folk, 80s inflated electronic synth played with modern, faster and Apple computers is the other vein of popular music nowadays.
There could be also an interesting strategy going on. With so many bands referring to Pavement, we just need another couple and we can be sure Malkmus will rejoin the troop for one of the most awaited reunions. They are already talking about it.
Hold on Now, Youngster… get you (you, indie rocker) dancing from the opening track Death to Los Campesinos!
Beyond a catchy song it contains a clever self-inflicted statement good to put down to earth any aspiration:
“I invented you
and I will destroy you.”
Without any doubt (how nice to have certainties!) the album reaches its peak with You! Me! Dancing!
The song was also the highlight of the gig where these pictures come.
It contains all their best bits in the same tune.
You! Me! Dancing! starts quiet and grows till the full band arrives.
A razor-sharp guitar riff slices throughout the 6 minutes.
The best opening rhyme I heard for ages:
“The beats, yeah, they were coming out the speakers
and were winding up straight in your sneakers.”
“Uh Uhs” on back vocals supporting the almost spoken, narrative lyrics.
Than change of rhythm for the chorus that confesses the unconfessable truth:
“If there’s one thing I could never confess, it’s that I can’t dance a single step.”
This is the first example of a greatest hits included in a single.
Everything works so fine that despite being long twice the length of a standard song it leaves you with the idea that you could have more.
October 2008. Do you remember the previous date? Los Campesinos! announce their second album: We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.
Now after the Beatles and since the Doors in 1967, I can’t recall another band that published 2 albums in the same year. Actually within 9 months.
We could speculate on the reason of such a move, it can be read as a kamikaze action on such difficult times for the record industry or a way to cash on the unexpected success.
In “me too” times new bands steal ideas and enter your niche with the speed of light.
Fans are not faithful either. If you are not quick to confirm yourself you may be forgotten in a corner seeing your supporter transmigrating somewhere else. The Strokes, Jet or The Hives know well.
Most likely Los Campesinos! simply had more songs and wanted to publish them, to share with fans and to enlarge live repertoire.
Whatever. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is as good (or as poor up to your taste) as the debut.
This is what they do well and this is what they kept doing. With a shortage of new ideas, I find perfectly acceptable to see a band recording two similar albums to define their style.
It is then up to the fans to decide if they are worth 20 quid, but here I am probably the last one buying CDs and even if you are with me, they will be on a 2-for-a-tenner rack somewhere.
A last rant, I don’t know if at NME realized they were losing the train (read Los Campesinos! fans) and tried to recover marking We are Beautiful, We are Doomed with a 9/10. I would like to know what is that makes such a difference to them.
Wouldn’t it be simpler to admit to have missed a good album and review your original vote, instead of making the same error twice first underestimating then overestimating two quite similar products?
You may be losing your credibility…what? Oh I see, NME lost its credibility ages ago.
Seven people on a stage are quite a dilemma to photograph.
Big bands are not very frequent today, budget issues I’d guess. If you come across a collective composed of several dancing folks what can be done?
When I am in the press pit I tend to focus on one or two members of the band trying to include another blurred figure on the background that gives the sensation of the crowded stage without making the image too confusing.
Very wide apertures (F2.8 or less) are the norm in low light situations met at gigs so this automatically helps the blur reducing the depth of field. You can emphasize this shifting your zoom (or changing your lens) to a medium telephoto setting.
It’s curious. What in the end I do with a big band on stage, is to isolate and shot the single members. If you manage to, it is fine to add a whole stage shot taken from the back of the theatre to give your viewer a panoramic impression of what was going on.