Los Campesinos!
We are Beautiful, We are Doomed
Arts & Crafts

3 Out of 5 Stars

Los Campesinos! seems a bit hesitant to declare We are Beautiful, We are Doomed to be its second proper album. While it certainly qualifies as such, the band coyly refers to its newest release as “what the majority of you have decided to call our ‘second album.’ ” At face value, the band’s skittishness is a bit unsettling. After all, what kind of band tries to downplay its efforts with off-putting ambivalence?

But with a little scrutiny, the group’s equivocation seems reasonable. Not only does We are Beautiful include more indulgent periphery than a special-edition “Scarface” DVD (bulkier-than-average packaging, a full-length DVD documentary, a thirty-plus-page illustrated booklet and a hand-drawn poster), it also comes a mere seven months after the American release of its debut album, Hold On Now, Youngster. In light of the circumstances, “album” may not be the designation the band is looking for. Perhaps “event” is more suitable. Or even “celebration.”

But labels aside, there are still 10 tracks buried beneath all the ornamental rubble that need to be considered. Instead of suffocating amid the surrounding excess, these songs surge with vitality and aplomb, forming a sometimes-playful, sometimes-snotty but altogether satisfying sophomore album (or whatever you want to call it).

One thing separating Los Campesinos! from the rest of the convoluted indie-pop world is the youthful charm they effortlessly communicates in their work. Hailing from Cardiff, Wales, the group embodies archetypal cockney charisma. Primary vocalist Gareth Campesinos (the band has a Ramones-like penchant for pseudonyms) sounds like a stagier version of The Streets’s Mike Skinner. More importantly, he shares Mr. Skinner’s ability to relate to people — he habitually draws the listener into his weird, Welsh world using only his boyish wit and blunt honesty. Sharing vocal duties is Gareth’s female counterpart, Aleksandra. Singing alone, she’s a much weaker performer than Gareth, but her soft-spoken, childlike harmonies provide an alluring schoolyard dynamic between the two.

Opener “Ways To Make It Through The Wall” is a furious, polyphonic barrage of frenzied guitars and manic keyboards propelled by arthritis-inducing drumming. It hits like a cold punch to the ear, demanding the listener’s attention right from the start. Los Campesinos! rarely slows down below mid-tempo, and “Ways” is as intense as things get.

There are no instantly engaging tunes like Hold On Now’s barnburner “You! Me! Dancing!,” but Los Campesinos! has honed a more focused and consistent sound. On tracks like “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed,” the band sounds like a hyper-caffeinated Broken Social Scene, crafting a dense sonic atmosphere with abundant punk energy. Proving their bag of tricks is a deep one, the band employs robotic keyboards, echoing strings and even a dash of glockenspiel to get their point across.

Lyrically, the band upholds its youthful spirit. Gareth muses in his angst-filled Cardiff accent about anxieties for the future, lost love and even drunk dialing. With occasional melodramatic lyrics, the band owes more to emo than would be expected. On “It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song For the Other Kurt),” Gareth howls “I walked into the room to see my ex-girlfriend / Who by the way I’m still in love with / Sucking the face of some pretty boy.”

On We Are Beautiful, Los Campesinos! never stop their high-energy, aural assault. When flavored with the band’s melodic pep, the album is enthralling and pure fun. However, it can get tiresome. After wading through all the packaging glitz, one might not have the energy or the desire to keep up with the Welsh septet’s exhausting pace.

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