Focusing on Gareth Campesinos! and his dour songwriting is a lax endeavor. Sure, he’s the guy who’s perpetually “snookered ’tween the back cushion and touching the eight-ball,” but that’s no novel appraisal. As far back as “You! Me! Dancing!” he’d decided that “every single one of us is twisted by design.”
People are paying undue attention to his self-flagellation these days because he’s finally stopped burying it in a tangle of complicated verbiage. Don’t worry; Gareth still spits out plenty of big words on Hello Sadness—if anything, he’s gotten considerably more skilled at folding obtuse metaphors into one another—but he isn’t hiding behind them as much as he used to.
As a result, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that there’s some clear sonic maturation here. 2010’s Romance Is Boring took itself too seriously and aimed for an eclecticism that was more than a little outside the Cardiff band’s reach. They haven’t unburdened themselves of their xylophones, gang vocals, handclaps or tinker toy percussions on Hello Sadness, but they’ve learned how to incorporate it all into something steadier. They’ve never sounded better than on “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope”—a blistering back-and-forth that confirms my assertions of five years ago (on reviewing their Sticking Fingers Into Sockets Arts & Crafts debut) that at their core, Los Campesinos! are channeling Domestiques-era Delgados (granted, it’s hard to ignore the amount of Robert Smith that Gareth brings to the table).
Don’t judge this one based on lead single “By Your Hand;” turns out it’s the least accomplished creation here, though you have to admit, it’s catchy fodder. Hello Sadness should eventually emerge as Los Campesinos! (how do you put an apostrophe on the end of that?) best stand-alone collection. Check out the title track below.