Los Campesinos! - Romance is Boring

Whenever I think of Los Campesinos! I remember that their first album Hold on Now, Youngster... was met with exceptional reviews, I ordered it online, and it was the only album out of that batch I never received. The original pressing I ordered ran short, and I just never got that debut disc. In a way, having heard them only in passing, and never having my own copy made them seem mysterious. My experience has shown that small indie bands that blow up are still usually attainable because there just isn't a broad enough audience to snag every single copy of their albums. In this case, apparently, there was. They must be good, follows the logic. There must be something about Los Campesinos! that says to listeners, "You must have this! Go out and fucking buy it!" And all the while, the tracks I heard through friends were good, punky pop-rock featuring screaming vocals about sex and love and lust and drugs and chaos. They sounded like a mix between Arcade Fire, Rainer Maria and Cursive. Fundamentally simple music, loaded with accoutrement via horns and strings and keys, and awkwardly harmonious vocals that weren't what anyone would call "traditional singing," but which still conveyed a yelping, almost uncontainable youthful passion. The words inside Los Campesinos! can't wait to get out of their vocalists mouths. The sentiments need to burst out like a skeleton of a person infected with "bonus eruptus" (Thank you, Dr. Nick). It's an admirable passion in listening to Los Campesinos! but I still hadn't listened to that first album in full, and aside from reviews on the 'Fork and other sites, it didn't seem like they were that special.

I continue to feel that way, even after listening through Romance is Boring a handful of times. There are unarguably great songs on the album, and it IS really completely enjoyable, but at the same time I can't dodge the feeling that it isn't speaking to me fully. I hear it, but it doesn't resonate. And having listened just a half an hour ago, I don't have a single song grinding the gears of my memory, say, the way Edward Sharpe (et al)'s "Home" is ingrained in my cortex, or Grizzly Bear's "Two Weeks" lingers. The issue is not that Los Campesinos! isn't excellent. I fully believe that they are one of the best up-and-coming bands out there. They have that distinct UK quality of indie-punk-folk-pop that arises in Frightened Rabbit too. I definitely recommend Romance is Boring for the songs' resistances to traditional ideas and topics. And for the number of times they mention erections, and other such sexual components in surprising contexts. It's a good album, I recognize this, and I think it's even better because it drives me to the point I've been hinting at throughout this post. Reviewers are inherently flawed, critics are built to criticize, but just knowing about how something sounds and whether it fits a mold, breaks a mold or changes a mold doesn't qualify any of us to make sweeping claims about quality and value.

A website like this one, or Pitchfork, or Allmusic, or Rolling Stone isn't reviewing music because there is expertise inherent in it. I love music, but I'd never consider myself an authority. There is too much music I don't know about, that I've never heard and never will hear, for me to say unequivocally that an album or artist is one way or another. Even in my wheelhouse, dealing with indie music that I get either via curiosity or word of mouth, I'm not entirely capable of telling anyone what to think or believe about the music they love. It's really kind of a trap. Reviewing music, criticizing it, comes down to issues of personal taste. For the Paul Thompson, who wrote the Pitchfork review, Romance is Boring is an 8.3 of 10. What that means, aside from an arbitrary assignment of value, is wide open. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart received an 8.4 and a "Best New Music" badge, but I didn't care for it that much. Knowing what one person thinks of an album is intriguing, but ultimately useless. And yes, of course I hope that my opinions mean something to someone, that a reader might consider my assessment of an album to accurately gauge that album's overall effect, but it's never everything. Writing about music doesn't have to boil down to "good" and "bad" or "effective" and "ineffective". So much of the time, for me anyway, it's about discussing what an album does. Music is a discussion topic, and a media to be enjoyed, and it's important to respect every attempt for what it is, and always keep tabs on how your own mood and tastes alter the way you consume the album. So, with that in mind, Los Campesinos!'s Romance is Boring is not my favorite, but it's still good, and worth owning and listening and re-listening. The sound is the reward, not just the review.

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