Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Best of 2008 Album Review: Los Campesinos! -- Hold On Now, Youngster ...

We're up to Number Two on my list of the Top Ten Albums of 2008. Tune into Pop Culture America Primetime tonight at 8PM Eastern to be the first to hear the full Top Ten list, including the dramatic unveiling of the Best Album of the Year. Then check back at this blogsite tomorrow for a full review of Number One (I bet it's a favorable review!). I'll also list the complete Top Ten here.

And stick with Pop Culture America Primetime all through the awards season for the most comprehensive coverage of movie prize buzz anywhere. In the weeks to come, Davey, myself, and a number of special guests will be running down our favorites in the worlds of music, TV, and film for the year. And we'd love to hear what you think. What do you agree with? What offends you by its inclusion or exclusion? Give us a call on PCA, or sound off right here.

And without further ado, on to Number Two ...

Los Campesinos! -- Hold On Now, Youngster ... (p. David Newfeld)




Back in my wayward youth, I had some friends who were known to indulge in a little creative vandalism. I was too much of a fraidy cat to join in, but I confess, I enjoyed the view from the sidelines. One day, one of these friends ordered a compressed-air BB rifle from an ad in a comic book, figuring it would aid in his destructive activities. When it arrived, it was a thorough disappointment. Even pumped up as hard as we could get it, the BBs would basically trickle out of the gun barrel and bounce harmlessly on the concrete. What a gyp!

So, ever the ingenious burgeoning criminal, my buddy got the bright idea of attaching the BB gun to his Dad's air compressor. After all, it was just a bigger version of the compressed air power system that was supposed to propel the BBs anyway, right? So he jerry-rigged the assemblage with duct tape and solder and we hauled the cumbersome gear to a local school and a brightly lit sign we had pelted with rocks to no avail in the past.

I threw the switch on the compressor. The gun rumbled in my friend's hands. He took careful aim at the sign, squeezed the trigger gently and the whole thing exploded in his face. Though not before it had sent a lethal stream of little metal pellets that shattered the lights in the sign and blew a sizable hole in it as well. Somehow, my friend escaped any serious injury and we hightailed it away from there.

That's what Los Campesinos! remind me of.

On their first full-length album, Hold On Now, Youngster ..., this Welsh septet brims over with as much crazy, impossible energy as that improperly enhanced BB gun. It's the kind of maniacal enthusiasm that could just as easily blow up in their faces as it could yield miraculously catchy shout-a-long tunes.

Thankfully, the latter prevails.

Hailing from Cardiff, Wales ("Doctor Who" country!), the seven bubbly, bright college kids who make up Los Campesinos! have all taken the name of their band as their last name, a la the Ramones. And the music of Hold On Now, Youngster ... sounds like nothing so much as a large clan of hyperactive siblings gleefully pounding away on the pots and pans in the kitchen; only with deceptively clever song structures and complexly literate references. It's a heady combination.

Starting with the propulsive guitar riff on the self-mocking "Death to Los Campesinos!", the band sets a breakneck pace for the entirety of these forty plus minutes that somehow -- I have no idea how -- remains exhilarating rather than just wearying.

It may be that the music bounces with unlikely accents. Strings and cheesy organs and even glockenspiels jump up periodically to make you wonder things like, "Was that a glockenspiel?"

"You! Me! Dancing!" features the rockingest glockenspiel ever recorded. Bar none.

It might be the disarming non sequiturs in the lyrics. Take this random example from "Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)":

"Tonight we're gonna smash this place up
And then we're gonna deck it out with fairy lights
Til we are content!"

Reminds me of that BB gun again.

Or how about this from "This Is How You Spell 'Hahaha, We Destroyed The Hopes And Dreams Of A Generation Of Faux-Romantics'":

"We have to take the car 'cause the bike's on fire
We cannot trust your friends 'cause they were born liars
And if you don't exist with hearts the size of a house brick
Cease, and desist!"

Heck, why bother quoting the lyrics. Just look at those song titles.

The vocals sound like everyone in Los Campesinos! took voice lessons from Jilted John (look him up); all exuberantly yelled as if they're trying to be heard over the din at a pep rally.

And while they may giggle at the thought of destroying the hopes and dreams of faux-romantics, there's a kind of cynicism here that only a true romantic can fully embrace. Who besides a romantic could sing wistfully about the summer that punk rock broke his heart?

I have no idea what kind of future this batch of non-faux-romantics and hepped-up dynamos will have. But for one glorious moment on Hold On Now, Youngster ..., they're as beautiful and dangerous as the barrel of an exploding BB gun.

Take a look at the video for "Death to Los Campesinos!" I know better, but I like to think that this is exactly the way the song was recorded, confetti and all.

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