Music

Los Campesinos!: Hello Sadness

Hello Sadness is a very confessional and autobiographical record, overall; one that might cause a sense of discomfort in some listeners for all of its brute honesty and unflinching emotion.


Los Campesinos!

Hello Sadness

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2011-11-15
UK Release Date: 2011-11-14
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There’s a Web site out there now called Drinkify.org that makes suggestions as to what alcohol you should drink while listening to a certain band. For hipster-friendly acts, old and new, such as Broken Social Scene, the Minutemen and Hüsker Dü, the site suggests that you should down a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you’re listening to more dour British acts like the Smiths, you should drink one bottle of Buckfast at room temperature. The Cure? One bottle of Cocaine (the caffeinated energy drink, not the drug), on the rocks and garnished with sugar. (I guess the site figures you’re listening to their more upbeat stuff like “The Lovecats” and not, say, Pornography.) Joy Division? Mix a concoction of two ounces of vodka, two ounces of lemon juice, and one bottle of Schnapps. And then there’s Los Campesinos!, who earned their claim to fame as being a very twee-like indie rock outfit. Drinkify says you should combine eight ounces of Woodford Reserve Bourbon with another eight ounces of Red Bull for a little bit of an extra kick. Well, Drinkify probably hasn’t heard the band’s fourth and latest long-player Hello Sadness because it largely abandons the twee foundation that the group was founded on, and it is a much lyrically and, in its second half, musically darker affair than previous efforts. That is to say that you can forget about spiking the bourbon with Red Bull while listening to Hello Sadness and just take the whole dang bottle of the strong proof and wallow in misery with it.

There have been a few changes afoot in the Los Campesinos! camp to make the band arrive at their current point of destination. The originally seven-piece band has lost three members since recording last year’s Romance Is Boring, and singer/lyricist Gareth Campensinos! (all of the group members take Campensions! as a surname, in the vein of what the Ramones did) reportedly went through a nasty breakup recently, which will likely fuel comparisons between Hello Sadness and Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. The record was recorded in Spain earlier this year with past producer John Goodmanson (2008’s We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed and 2010’s Romance Is Boring), but it marks a change of direction – some may argue a maturation – in that, except for the first three or so songs, the twee elements are largely absent, and so is the boy-girl vocal harmonizing that make the group so wonderfully appealing. Hello Sadness is a very masculine record, then; one that gazes at the belly and one that is bridled with a pop-punk sensibility that injects a sense of anger into the record. In fact, Gareth’s staccato machine-gun delivery has been slowed down just a tad, which seems to be an effort to draw further attention to the lovelorn lyrics. Hello Sadness is a very confessional and autobiographical record, overall; one that might cause a sense of discomfort in some listeners for all of its brute honesty and unflinching emotion. It is also a very studio-created album: if you listen closely, you can hear the edit points, particularly on album opener “By Your Hand”, where vocals or instrumentation has been spliced into the mix. In the long run, Hello Sadness might be the most complex and adventurous disc that the group has arguably created. However, it has its share of failure, particularly as one moves deeper and deeper into it.

Hello Sadness gets off on a number of thrilling high points. “By Your Hand”, which opens with the caustic lines “By your hand is the only end I foresee / I have been dreaming, been dreaming about me”, is a soaring indie rock anthem that nestles closely between the widescreen pop approach taken by bands bursting at the seams with group members such as Broken Social Scene and I’m From Barcelona, and deeply burrows deeply into your subconscious. “Songs About Your Girlfriend” is even better: it’s a pop punk number with churning, dissonant guitars ripped directly from the songbook of Kevin Drew. It is perhaps the angriest thing that Los Campesinos! has committed to tape, and the band sounds particularly charged and fired up on this track – prompting the listener to fumble for the 11 notch on their stereo volume control. The title track is another Broken Social Scene sound-a-like, one that churns and simmers with a particular virile brand of vile, a real kiss-off to seemingly unrequited love. Those first three songs that open the album are knock-outs and are vibrant and buoyant in their infectiousness, but then the band begins to slowly draw the blinds and move into much bleaker territory. “Life Is A Long Time” (“My brown eyes are two pools of mud / Resting in two dark moons that turn the tide into a flood” intones Gareth) is a jaunty stab at brooding jangle rock, that turns into a minor key shoegazer of a chorus, and here you can hear a late ‘70s Fleetwood Mac influence really bubbling to the fore. The five-minute long “Every Defeat a Divorce (Three Lions)” is similarly downcast, as if the members of Belle and Sebastian had forgotten to take some anti-depressants before heading into the recording studio. With its chiming guitars, wavering violins and sleek production, the song is a memorable one (“My memories are sepia / but the photograph is not” boasts Gareth in a particularly noteworthy line) that, once again, just burrows itself deep into your cranium and refuses to budge or give up space.

While the first five songs are particularly endearing, things soon begin to quickly fall apart in the second half of the album. The main fault is that the band begins to forget that they are Los Campesinos! and not the Cure in full-on depressive mode. Or, more simply, the songs just aren’t there: the melodies aren’t really as affecting or memorable, making Hello Sadness a very front-loaded record, one that saves the abstraction for its latter half. The two-minute-plus “Hate for the Island” is an unfinished sketch of a song sans drums and is a harrowing listen with its dissonant guitars wailing away as Gareth belts away some self-absorbed lyricisms. “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope” is a song that wouldn’t be out of place on Side One, and is the second half’s clear highlight – and it is worth noting that it is the only place on the album where we actually hear some female vocals that aren’t relegated to background status. However, Gareth here tips himself into further Robert Smith style petulant and depressive self-absorption: “The black bird sits atop my gut / Spreads its wings to fly / My shoulders back, my jaw pushed out, my stomach sucked in / Its wingtips push across my lungs / And fill them full of feathers / But the brushstrokes feel like earth pokes into my skin.” And then, Hello Sadness falls apart from there. “To Tundra” is a bluesy trudge across a barren landscape that is about as anti-twee that you can get. “Baby I Got the Death Rattle” stomps at a snail’s pace with Gareth’s vocals pinging between the left and right speaker to create an interesting stereophonic effect – a bit of window dressing to cover the fact that there’s an absolute absence of any riffs. Worse yet, “Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt. II” is a gloomy end to the album that similarly crawls like a tortoise trying to get to the finish line.

Ergo, Los Campesinos! had a very strong EP’s worth of material on Hello Sadness, as five or six of the songs make a mark; the rest is largely filler on an album stretched out to a 40 minute runtime. It does mark a sonic turn of sorts away from their giddy earlier sound, and some might be pleased that the band is not simply content to retread past glories. However, Hello Sadness really feels like a final album from the band: Los Campesinos! sound tired at points here, and Gareth has lost a great deal of his wit and satirical edge in his wordplay. While it starts out with a quite a bang, Hello Sadness is a hard-to-listen to record and it settles uncomfortably into uncharted territory that might have been best to not traverse so soon after the emotional wounds inflicted on its lyricist/singer. A lot might be made of this being the ultimate indie rock break-up album, but there are large tracks in the backend that are simply unlistenable, and the only pleasure or benefit that the record brings might just be self-catharsis on the end of its creators. The maniac energy that made Los Campesinos! so special is so largely absent here in the record’s second half, the only use that Drinkify’s Red Bull suggestion would have is to simply stay awake while the group unearths its personal demons and shackles itself to a weary slow-tempo beat in its latter stages. Clearly, from the evidence here, the band, and perhaps less so the listeners, could use a really good stiff drink – to better drown its sorrows and to prevent its jaded worldview from seeping into its lyrics and music in what must have been a difficult piece of art to create.

6

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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