The British indie pop collective are still going strong ten years after their debut album. Their latest shows the remarkable consistency of their songcraft.
The endurance of Los Campesinos! has made it abundantly clear that the band are more than the novelty they once appeared to be in the mid-2000s. By all rights, they should have faded away once their joke had worn thin, much in the same way that most of that past decade seems like a distant, irrelevant memory. Perhaps this is due to their lack of adherence to any trend; they were only grouped in with the vague signifier of “indie” because of their audience and label circumstances. Los Campesinos! have never sounded like anything other than themselves, and whether or not you have time for Sick Scenes depends on whether or not you have time for the band in general.
Given that they came from an era in which bands were anointed the Next Big Thing off of a week of blog-driven hype and Myspace follows, it’s shocking that we’re even hearing a Los Campesinos! record in 2017. But sing-along choruses and indelible hooks can’t be tied to passing trends, and Sick Scenes is full of those. The manic energy that has always characterized the band’s finest moments is ever-present here, and it never once feels as if they’re acting under some sense of obligation. The frenetic pace of “Sad Suppers” and “I Broke Up in Amarante” is as such because the band remain as passionate and committed to writing about the off-kilter, beautiful losers that they’ve always written about. Even if these songs slightly lack the freewheeling abandon of a song like “Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats", that’s largely due to how they have matured since their arrival. On Sick Scenes, Los Campesinos! have turned the art of writing a Los Campesinos! song into an exact process.
Even so, the album’s best moments come when the Los Campesinos! enter a more contemplative headspace. Quiet reflection isn’t necessarily something one would associate with Los Campesinos!; lead singer Gareth Campesinos!’s thoughts aren’t dwelt on so much as they are unleashed at breakneck speed. But Sick Scenes offers a few moments when the band slow things down and create some of the most affecting moments they’ve ever created. “A Slow Slow Death” offers, among other things, a eulogy for life in London and a particular kind of English existence that seems to become more and more futile with each passing moment. The point is further belabored on “The Fall From Home", a delicate, affecting song that examines the fading fortunes of small-town life in the UK. Though it seems very specific to the writer’s life story, the tale of decaying infrastructure and people left adrift by society speaks across international and generational lines. What’s more, it refrains from passing judgment, either way, preferring instead to present the situation as is and lament the sadness of it all. It cuts to the heart of Sick Scenes, an album intent on showing the mature side of Los Campesinos!.
To be honest, Sick Scenes isn’t for everyone. If you’ve found Los Campesinos! to be a bit much in the past, this isn’t going to be the album that changes your mind. But Los Campesinos! aren’t trying to change minds. They just make records, and they’ve made a very good one in Sick Scenes.