Los Campesinos! - Hold On Now, Youngster
Simon Jay Catling 22/02/2008
Now that all the New Year hype and bluster is out of the way, 2008 is finally starting to unfold and reveal which of those acts lauded at the beginning of the year are truly going to live up to their potential. Among those first out of the blocks was female talent Adele; with the likes of These New Puritans and Sons & Daughters following suit. With Duffy's album also out imminently and Foals anticipated offering due out in March, the race to best the rest is truly on; and so arriving in another storm of media plaudits and fresh radio airplay come plucky underdogs, Cardiff seven-piece Los Campesinos!
Starting out initially as a three piece back in 2006, Los Campesinos! have expanded both in personnel and in sound since their first gig back in May of that year. Many of the songs compiled on this album have been drifting around since those early days, both on their demo- also named Hold On Now, Youngster, and on last year's promising EP Sticking Fingers Into Sockets. The band rely largely on the vocal chemistry that lies between Gareth and Aleksandra Campesinos, whilst the rest of the band rattle on in the background mixing the ramshackle energy of the likes of the Arcade Fire with some shorter, punkier pop sensibilities. It's hard to explain how one can feel exhausted whilst listening to an album but if ever a description fitted the opening five tracks of Hold On Now, Youngster.. then it can only be described as thus. Recent single Death To Los Campesinos! opens up with a lonely guitar that's quickly submerged with more, driving guitars and bass, whilst a singular glockenspiel patters away over the top, echoing the contrast between Gareth's passionate strangled cries and Aleksandra's laidback, poised vocal delivery. As pop songs go it's catchy as hell and likely to attract the ears of early pubescents just as much as it will people many years they're elders. There's no respite as a shouted '1,2,3,4' intro leads us straight into the frantic 'Broken Hearts Sound Like Breakbeats', as Gareth laments of being 'the beacon of hate that you'd always expected'. It's as though Aleksandra is trying to calm the excitable male singer down in this and throughout the album; indeed we don't get a respite until sixth track 'Knee Deep At ATP', where the band finally decide to take a rest and allow the bass and a delightful meandering violin take control and allow the listener to get their breath back, before a slow build up leads to an anthemic chorus. It could be argued that this is the end of part one.
“Part two” begins with live favourite 'This Is How You Spell “Hahaha, We Destroyed The Hopes and Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics” which brings with it a slightly more measured tone before throttling head first once again into a irresistibly catchy chorus. One argument that can be levelled against the septet is that the overload of energy can at times make Hold On, Youngster.. rude towards the listener. The production doesn't always help either, with all the guitars seemingly turned up to full volume so as to lose some of the more subtle elements of the band in its onrushing presence. Likewise, on songs where Gareth dominates the vocals one loses Aleksandra's more docile, easy on the ear lyrics. There can be no criticism that Los Campesinos! don't possess boundless energy, it's just that at times it needs to be reigned in a little to stop the album becoming one big blur as can easily be the case upon first listen. When they manage to get it just right, the results are wonderful; 'Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks' manages to provide both a wonderfully controlled yet infectious mid section, where the bass and violin once again take prominence, before erupting into an outro ever so slightly reminiscent of 'Wake Up' by Arcade Fire. Final track '2007, The Year Broke (My Heart)' repeats the trick with a composed offering that is quite at odds with most of what has gone on before.
So; a certifiable success? The answer would have to be yes as Los Campesinos! possess both the straight ahead pop punk appeal to entice a younger generation and an underlying subtlety that conveys influences far wider than at first meets the eye- names like Architecture Of Helsinki, Pavement and Broken Social Scene are often thrown around upon describing this band and the album does little to dissuade those comparisons. The main criticism of this album has to be that relentless layers of noise coupled with an occasionally muddy production can at times make for an uncomfortable listen, whilst also at times the group disable a good pop song by trying to throw too many ingredients into the cauldron. However, a handy knack for an infectious hook can't help but leave you to persevering with what can only be described as a very good debut offering; translating the energy contained on this album into the live arena should see Los Campesinos! become justifiably huge over the coming months, and with the competition surrounding them that there is this is no mean feat. The ball's in their court.