Hold On Now Youngster…
You can argue that the term ‘indie’ ceased to mean anything of any relevance the moment major labels moved in for a piece of the pie. You can discuss the impact that Oasis – and subsequently Britpop – had on such a disparate umbrella term, blowing the movement wide-open to the mainstream in the mid-’90s. Or you can stop arguing for one goddamn second and ponder that, from AC/DC to The Yummy Fur, Nina Simone to Trumans Water, good music is simply good music, regardless of whether the output of such artists were hand-pressed by someone in a pokey bedsit or by the production line of a globe-straddling conglomerate. Yet there exists a proud lineage of resolutely underground-minded types who take refuge under the moniker of ‘indie’ that stretches from the Buzzcocks to Art Brut, taking in almost 30 years of anti-authoritarian music and culture. It encompasses such varied ideas as punk, C86, riot grrrl and lo-fi, and unites otherwise unlikely bedfellows as Crass, The Pastels, Huggy Bear and Pavement under one snug blanket. It’s more a mindset than a musical style, and one that values ideas, imagination and anti-sexist, anti-racist ideologies above record sales and profit margins. It’s a world where fanzines and seven-inch singles are lifeblood and where bands make music to thrill and stir rather than shift units and break even. It’s into this world where seven-piece Los Campesinos! release their debut long-player.
Formed at Cardiff university in 2006 and named after a rough interpretation of the Spanish term for ‘the peasants’, LC! certainly tick all the pre-requisite boxes for a band crossing underground border control. Previous singles have been released on limited-edition coloured vinyl, they’ve worked with Broken Social Scene collaborator Dave Newfeld and the great single that preceded this release – along with debut single ‘You Throw Parties, We Throw Knives’ – sadly isn’t on here. Said single was entitled ‘The International Tweexcore Underground’, and namechecked such underground dons as Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye and K Records founder/Beat Happening man Calvin Johnson. It proclaimed the existence of an alternative landscape for boys and girls sporting bowlcuts with the glee and fervour that LC!’s spiritual forebears Bis used to bang on about in the mid-’90s. All this before we’ve even mentioned the inclusion of a song on their album called ‘Knee Deep At ATP’, which is essentially like Oasis releasing something called ‘We’re Mad Fer Gak’, if you think about it.
From the off, ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’ isn’t a great debut album. It is, however, undoubtedly a collection of many good songs. From start to finish, it’s a relentlessly difficult listen, and one that suffers from little in the way of dynamics or variety of tone. Almost every song is a gallop – each largely layered with stabbed strings – and as a cohesive listen, it’s one that could have benefitted from production that allowed a wider range of mood to surface – it’s a record that seems best suited to occasional forages than being played as a whole. All of which presents something of a quandary. Much of the band’s appeal lies in their sprightly, impassioned indie assault, but it’s impossible to escape the prevalent feeling that more enjoyment could be obtained from all 12 tunes being released as singles rather than being sat back to back here. Perversely, the one time they break from such a template comes with the aforementioned ‘Knee Deep At ATP’. It would have come as welcome respite if it wasn’t the one song that sounded like filler.
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That said, the likes of ‘Broken Heartbeats Sound Like Breakbeats’, ‘Drop It Doe Eyes’, and ‘You! Me! Dancing!’ are inspiring, short, sharp, joyous indie romps that sound like Arcade Fire fucking about with latter-day Belle & Sebastian. ‘My Year In Lists’ will feature predominantly on mixtapes from awkward lovers until the end of days, while opener ‘Death To Los Campesinos!’ reinforces two of pop’s golden rules. Namely that: 1) duelling boy-girl vocals will always sound stupendously exciting, and 2) next to the gong, the glockenspiel is music’s most underrated instrument. Yet ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’’s best song lies with penultimate tune, ‘Sweet Dreams, Sweet Cheeks’, which employs the neat trick of the band writing two great choruses and shoehorning them into one brilliantly bashful love song.
Ultimately, much of what makes Los Campesinos! worth your time lies in the snotty, gasped lyrical missives of mainman Gareth Campesinos! (like a tank top-clad take on the Ramones, all of the band take their band name as surnames). The best bits of ‘Hold On Now, Youngster…’
come from his obnoxiously cute brain. You imagine Gareth represents Los Campesinos!’ staple demographic – someone who believes passionately in the fruits of the underground. A band to believe in then, but not the debut we were looking forward to.