Yes, these peppy young Welshmen and Welshwomen just released their full-length debut, Hold On Now, Youngster back in April (February in the UK). And no, this is not a live, B-sides or remix discc -- this is an all-new album. It’s surprising these days to look back at how some hugely influential albums were seemingly cranked out, like how Dylan released Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited a mere five months apart in `65 (sorry, on a huge Dylan kick right now). These days we are pleasantly surprised by bands that release an album nearly every calendar year (of Montreal, the Mountain Goats, the Hold Steady), and it’s only solo artists who release every fart into a microphone (Robert Pollard) and put out multiple albums a year. For a septet to release two full-lengths in a calendar year is unheard of. Yet, what is the most notable here is the musical growth Los Campesinos! have made in the short gap betweenYoungster and We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed.
The album is book-ended with its most sure-fire tracks, using their Youngster formula of ‘every instrument hit hard all at once’ on opener “Ways to Make It Through the Wall” and closer “All Your Kayfabe Friends.” They are solid additions to their repertoire but not the highlights here because they show the least development. The band has grown by recognizing and successfully toning down their three main crutches: glockenspiel, jerky guitar leads and gang vocals. Not that these aspects are gone -- we wouldn’t want that, since it’s what made us love them in the first place -- but they use them more selectively, which makes them all the more powerful and less predictable. Lyrically, they don’t rely so much on cuteness here, getting even a bit brazen at times, and the indie references are toned down; they were fun at first, but the more limited use is probably a good idea for the long haul.
I think this album works better as a whole than Youngster due to what surely was an intentional attempt by the band to expanding their sonic realm. Whereas Youngster was a fun yet exhausting romp, loud and fast pretty much start-to-finish, We Are Doomed explores tempos (slower) and dynamics (quiet) previously foreign to the group. “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing” has a fairly driving tempo, but the guitars keep the volume knob down and the restraint works well, letting the strings and Gareth’s strong vocal performance shine through. “Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown 1” finds the band at a walking speed that suits them surprisingly well. This tune also shows them fooling around with noise, with a lengthy feedback/squiggling synth outro that works more naturally than the seemingly tacked-on anti-radio buildup on old tune “You! Me! Dancing!”. And then there’s “Between an Erupting Earth and an Exploding Sky,” an odd little feedback-driven instrumental interlude that probably could have built into a cool song but instead dies shortly after the one-minute mark. “The End of the Asterisk” also gets cut short and doesn’t go much of anywhere.
“Heart Swells / Pacific Daylight Time” finds the band furthest from their comfort zone, starting slow and acoustic with chilly synth wind. Its second section peps up but stays acoustic; the song never explodes like you would expect and is all the better for it. The track is a victory for the young songwriters, but they could have taken it even further as all this happens in under three minutes.
The title track is the album’s biggest hit, with a prominent buzzing synth line and a violin part that plays off and around it, and a peppy riff that recycles nicely on a 2/4 measure (or 6/4, depending on how you count it out). They toy with dynamics in the verses, bringing things down sharply then up again. “You said he got his teeth fixed / I’m gonna break them!” Gareth and Aleksandra shout in the chorus, and you will surely provide the backups.
Youngster was a strong debut by a band who found a winning formula and ran with it, but had me doubting if I could keep up with their energy for long. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed has been a much more listenable album for me, with more diversity in a shorter 32-minute set, leading to more repeated plays. Granted, it’s no perfect recordand the kids need to stop doubting themselves and expand tastefully on their ideas rather than teasing us with them. They are on the right track, though.