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Gareth Campesinos! is our bard of throwing up. For a decade, nearly every word that has come out of the Los Campesinos! singer’s mouth has presented itself with rash inelegance, candidness, and the need to be ejected from his body this very second. But sometimes, as anyone who’s stared down the depths of a toilet bowl knows, vomit is just vomit. Like that time he sang of an awkward hookup that was blown when a girl upchucked all over his rented tuxedo; or when he recounted that early heartbreak when he got wasted, ate too many potato chips, and then deposited the greasy snack right back onto a soccer field. For Gareth, such trials are the punchline to humanity’s cruel joke. They are essential experiences, embarrassments that turn into collective elation once they hit open air. Because, for all its indecency, throwing up makes us feel better.
Sick Scenes, the British group’s sixth album, plays like a love letter to aging indie idealism; to the fans who have reveled in this band’s careening pop-punk singalongs, scathing neuroses, and charmingly specific soccer references. There is yet another ode to semi-digestion here when Gareth advises: “Save your epiphanies… for chucking up in your own hands.” It’s unconventional wisdom from a man who would know, and the line hints at a weathered sageness that lingers throughout. On the prescription ode “5 Flucloxacillin,” the drums drop out to spotlight the singer’s oh-so-specific stasis as he laments, “Another blister pack pops, but I still feel much the same—31 and depression is a young man’s game.” At that, stalwart musical leader Tom Campesinos! peals off a 15-second guitar solo to lift spirits enough for the next verse.
Given the financial gauntlet nearly every independent band must face in 2017, it seems like a minor miracle that Los Campesinos! still exist at all. And nobody knows this more than Los Campesinos! A large part of their enduring appeal—remember, they began as a MySpace band—has to do with the fact that they were never especially trendy. Too sugary for the emo diehards, too tart for the indie bandwagoners, too emo for the cool kids. Their target audience could be as particular as one of Gareth’s excruciating tales of broken romance, but also just as passionate; strength in small numbers.
To fund the making of Sick Scenes, the band sold about a thousand soccer jerseys with the word “DOOMED” scrawled across the chest. Their message could not be clearer: This is a team, and you are part of it. The idea plays out in one of the record’s most touching moments, near the end of manic-panic crack up “I Broke Up In Amarante,” when Gareth starts a hook on his own, but soon stalls out. “I’m going to need you to help me out here,” he mutters, and a full chorus of voices enter to winningly finish a song about the inevitability of defeat.
Recorded amid the harsh realities of Brexit, Sick Scenes faintly opens up its miserabilia to bring in the wider world. These are not anthems of woke-ness, but Gareth’s disappointment and anger don’t sound quite as rash; he’s been around long enough to reflect upon many sad cycles. Nowhere is this more apparent than on “The Fall of Home,” this band’s most beautifully heart-crushing song to date. Backed by little more than a cello, a violin, and some plinking piano notes, Gareth gets to the core of Western society’s current cultural divides: between rural and urban, parents and children, those moving ahead and those staying behind. “Left your hometown for somewhere new/Don’t be surprised now it’s leaving you,” he sings. It’s a eulogy to youth that zeroes in with precision, each detail more wrenching than the last: “funeral for a family pup” and “battery dies on your monthly call” and, finally, “gave the fascists a thousand ticks.” But this song isn’t a simple slam on the generalized “small-town mentality,” considering Gareth essentially still lives in the same small English town he grew up in. Instead, “The Fall of Home” comes off like a sympathetic plea from someone familiar with both sides, who disagrees with the nationalist impulse but can fathom its root. And in its understanding, there is a glimmer of hope.
A strange positivity can also be found on an ambling track called “A Slow, Slow Death” that concludes with the lines: “There’s a slow, slow death if you want it/Yeah, I want it.” Instead of glorifying death or poking fun at it, though, this is a statement of stubborn resilience, of life. Especially in the streamed today/trashed tomorrow world of modern music, the possibility of a slow death can seem revolutionary. Los Campesinos! will never be the biggest, the best-looking, the most loved. But when their time comes, they will be able to look back, content.Share