Counter Arts
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Counter Arts

The poetry of slowly dying: Los Campesinos!

A brief exploration of the band’s sixth album, Sick Scenes.

Amber, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Of course I’ve listened Romance is Boring. Yes, I have made my way through Hello Sadness and We are Beautiful, We are Doomed. However, the one Los Campesinos! album that I keep coming back to is Sick Scenes. The album, which contains eleven songs, has been the background soundtrack to a very difficult, but rewarding, time in my life. The last year or so has pushed my boundaries, shattered and rebuilt my character, confidence, and beliefs. To me, Sick Scenes is about the rebellion of the quietly resigned. The tones and notes of liberation, and potency, and a David-and-Goliath attitude lace the melancholic, and very much depressing, subject matters of this cathartic musical experience.

Sick Scenes is, in fact, about our “pissed-up pariah[s].” The opening song, Renato Dall’Ara, is actually a very good microcosm representative of the rest of the album. The upbeat and relentless beat of the song drives home a seemingly contradictory feeling of optimism and dynamism that contrasts against the really quite depressing and gritty social and political commentary:

Daddy came out of retirement
He took a hobby as a PCSO
Let me level this as an indictment
Only a part-time grass, but a full-time asshole

The world of Los Campesinos! is, in their own words, a world of budget cuts to primary schools, family deaths, and fascist revivals. And yet, despite the reality material need; of economic disparity and destitution:

The rise of rent, the fall of home
Left your home town for somewhere new
Don’t be surprised now it’s leaving you

Despite romantic misfortunes and the significant and taxing strains and toils of love:

When all is spent and all is lost
When all is said and done
And all we got’s the need to breed before we rot

Despite all of this, and much more– such as drug and alcohol abuse or depression and medication in songs such as Five Flucloxacilin, or the dreadful business of provincial and federal politics in a track such as a A slow, slow death– Los Campesinos! never lose their optimistic or defiant streak. There is a humor that persists through most of the songs. A socialist reading Marx next to a private pool; the lament of wet hair at the sight of a guillotine; the ridiculous and wonderful insistence on doing the same thing time and time again whilst expecting the results to change– without ever appearing detached, Los Campesinos! tackle immensely personal, destabilizing, and intense subject matters through a biting irony that translates into upbeat and ridiculously catchy instrumentals.

Of all the songs of Sick Scenes, the track For Whom the Belly Tolls captures their synthesis of optimism and suffering the best. The crashing electronic sounds and live instruments seem to deceive us– putting up false expectations of light-hardheartedness against the reality of a song that is about futile struggle– at the beginning of the track. However, it is evident that the sound and the subject matter have melted into a new and uniquely Los Campesinos! point of view. This is to say, that of the lively, ironic, and funny, yet mournful and unapologetic, rebellion.

It’s 7:20, Monday morning
I look to the man with no suit for a warning
If open to reason/collusion
May the way that I go be regrettable, gruesome..

The lines between what is reasonable and what is corrupt have been blurred. And, the defiant acceptance of the guillotine is immediately subverted by an ambivalent comment muttered moments before the execution:

…In exchange for one thing: “I beg do not take me today”
Babbling, “Please, let me stay”

Is the remark ironic or sarcastic? Are we to take the line as an admittance of defeat and a last ditch attempt at salvation, or as a mocking utterance slung against the executioner and the immovable forces that the guillotine symbolizes? I believe Los Campesinos! would say: both.



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Essayist and second rate bard.