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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Los Campesinos! Shout at the World

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"Oh, if only there were clothes on the floor," Gareth Campesinos! says midway through his band's hit (well, Internet hit), "You! Me! Dancing!" Ignore the cloyingly cute title; like the rest of Los Campesinos!' debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster…, the song isn't actually about dancing but rather the pursuit of sex that always seems just out of reach. Not since the Violent Femmes' 1982 debut has an album so single-mindedly detailed sexual frustration.

Sometime between the release of Youngster and the band's rush-delivered follow-up We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed just six months later, the clothes did hit the floor, but sex doesn't prove to be the magic solution to Gareth's problems as he might have hoped. On the contrary, Youngster's co-ed slumber-party giddiness gives way to resentment and foreboding, as the singer curses the women who've burned him, the world that rains salt on his wounds and, mostly, himself.

"I have broken down into the naked breasts of a newly ex," Gareth says, bristling in the album's most rancorously self-loathing moment. "I can only guess that she thinks about it when she touches herself."

The knife cuts that much deeper coming from a young group that, with their chiming glockenspiel, violins and dueling male-female vocals, could have easily been dismissed as a toothless twee-pop group. Any batch of kids with the right riff can make fun a song about dancing-or, as the case may be, not dancing-but the brilliance of We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed lies in how it milks entertainment not from levity but from almost virulence. The album is dotted with cathartic, shout-along declarations, the biggest of which is saved for the title track: "We kid ourselves there's future in the fucking," the septet roars, "but there is no fucking future!"

The song has become a hit on college radio, despite not only its un-broadcastable payoff but also the band's refusal to promote it. At 10 tracks and about 30 minutes, Los Campesinos! classified We Are Beautiful as an EP, not a full-length, and decided against pushing any singles from it. They instead released the CD in a limited pressing, using the money saved to package it with a cereal aisle's worth of collectibles (a badge, poster, DVD and 30-page zine). The extras are a telling nod to the band's pre-MySpace influences.

"Growing up in Wales most of us listened to '90s bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth, so we're all fans of the DIY indie ethic," guitarist Neil Campesinos! explains. "We're on a label so we can't consider ourselves a DIY band, but we'd still rather make our releases personal and special, and do a little extra."

Though the band has already reunited with We Are Doomed producer John Goodmanson to begin tracking what they consider their real follow-up to Youngster-"We have so many songs written that it would be foolish to just sit on them for a year," Neil says-they're taking a break from the studio for another round of touring throughout April.

"I love our recorded output, obviously, but I really prefer to think of us as a live band," Neil says. "In the studio you can do a whole lot more in terms of tracking, but on stage the seven of us all get so into it. We're the kind of band that would rather move around and make some mistakes than play note-perfectly, but that's the kind of band I would rather see."

Los Campesinos! headline an 8 p.m. show at the Turner Hall Ballroom on Friday, April 3, with Sky Larkin.