Any magician, athlete, or storyteller will tell you how important misdirection is to their craft. So, when Romance Is Boring opens with the line “Let’s talk about you for a minute,” it is clear that Gareth Campesinos intends to do exactly the opposite. Los Campesinos! has crafted an album full of tricks, the most notable being the title Romance Is Boring, which in less capable hands, it could be (I’m thinking Hugh Grant, Sandra Bullock, or Julia Roberts). On a record full of angst, death, fucking, fighting, football, breakups, and hookups, romance is anything but dull.
Sure, Romance Is Boring contains the anthems and breathless wordplay that has earned Los Campesinos! a devoted fanbase, and deservedly so. The title track, “There are Listed Buildings” and “A Heat Rash in the Shape of the Show-Me State or, Letters from Me to Charlotte” can stand next to any of the groups shout-alongs with fist-pumping choruses and chaotic orchestrations that prove when you are dealing with a seven piece, sometimes more is more. But the less die-hard fans will wonder why a third album in two years in necessary. Most young bands can’t really grow that fast and it would seem pumping out the albums at this speed would only muck up the water with average tunes and filler. Hence, the “tricks” I spoke of earlier.
Take “Plan A” for starters. This two-minute barn burner owes more to Black Flag than Pavement, with the lo-fi recording suiting Gareth and Aleks Campesinos’ yelps effectively. Coming five songs in, this is the first moment the listener loses their guard. And once the guard comes down, lines like “we need more post-coital and less post-rock/feels like the build-up takes forever and you never get me off,” on “Straight in at 101” fly in like uppercuts. Gareth Campesinos can seem like he’s throwing darts with his lyrics, but from album to album, the bulls-eyes are coming more frequently. “Straight in at 101” ends by painting a picture of a family gathered around a television watching the worst break-ups of all time, noting that none of them are his. This is self-depreciating and obvious, but also something that needs to be heard from time to time. Somewhere, a broken-hearted teenager listens to this 14 times on repeat.
Perhaps the most surprising and effective bit of the album comes in the concluding three songs. Beginning with “The Sea is a Good Place to Think of the Future”, we find Los Campesinos! creating a heavy-handed anthem built around anorexia and sadness. It’s a song I want to hate with every fiber of my soul, but it might be the finest the band has created yet. In the second verse, there is a part where Gareth doubles his voice to discuss the subject of the song’s title, and it absolutely kills me. But killing me in the exact opposite way is the opening line to the next song, immediately following the band’s most serious moment and yelled by all seven members: “Can we all please just calm the fuck down!?” It’s as if Los Campesinos! realized how heavy things have gotten and needed to reign them in. Finally the album concludes with “Coda: A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Sooner State” (yes, the titles are really this awesome). “I can’t believe I chose the mountains every time you chose the sea” is repeated by the group, leaving no room for a happy ending. Because that would be boring.
It is sad to note that this record will be Aleks’ last with the band, as she has always been a perfect straight (wo)man to Gareth’s rambling eccentricities. But she will be replaced by his sister, so something tells me the new female voice of the band will have no problem keeping him in check. And if I were gonna make a complaint about Romance Is Boring, it would be that more editing would only strengthen the piece. As a 15 song LP, it’s a strong record. But as a ten song record, it might be even better. The endless parade of words that rain down on the listeners can seem like too much at times, causing some songs to be overlooked as the listener takes a moment to check out. Still, Romance Is Boring is every bit as good as its predecessors and manages to expand the range of a band that was due for some expanding.
Of course, this could just be more misdirection to mask the next record’s left-field sound. That album will probably be out in the next six months, too.