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Thursday, February 4, 2010

[though said with hands in pocket, I mean it hand on heart]

So, Los Campesinos! rant today. Ready? Predictably, it's about the new Romance Is Boring, an album I've been listening to quite a lot these days. I am very perplexed by all the bloggers and journalists who have hastened to proclaim it the band's most "mature" work to date. Whatever they mean by "mature". This is the point where I feel the need to insert an innocent enough remark from a Pitchfork Guy that nonetheless quite bugged me. Here's what Pitchfork Guy said: "It's fun watching bands grow; it's been a pleasure watching this band grow up." My annoyance at that quote can be summed up thus: 

Change is not synonymous with Growth. 

 Yes, this is a band that has changed a great deal from that first EP but does that necessarily mean they've grown? Would you say the Editors' sudden decision to Experiment musically (ahem) is growth?* No, you wouldn't. Why? Because growth implies a (gradual, to the point of being sometimes imperceptible) change for the better. To me, what they're doing is more of a completely willful and somewhat stubborn change, something like an eight-year-old pounding his fists on the table and demanding to be a grown up already so he can eat whatever he wants and play video-games all day long. Growth doesn't happen like that. Growth happens instinctively, naturally, without you having to force its [metaphorical] hand.  We-don't-want-people-to-think-we're-twee-so-now-we're-moving-in-a-different-direction-just-so-they-can't-call-us-that-anymore is not growth.  [Parenthesis: there's nothing wrong with twee, you know. There's also nothing wrong with  catchy-ness and singalong-ability - both things the new album very much lacks.] Saying you're embarrassed of your previously-released material is really NOT growth. "There’s one or two songs that are a bit cringey, so we try to avoid playing them as much as possible. There’s one which I may have rid us of forever – 'We throw parties, you throw knives.' I don’t like it at all, I don’t think we’ll play that again. 'It started with a mix' is alright, but I doubt we’ll do that again either. But if I can get rid of Tweecore [2007 single 'International Tweexcore Underground'], I’ll be happy. Once that’s gone, onwards and upwards." Okay, I'm sorry: I respect this guy (for music he has made and lyrics he has penned) but that statement is just not nice towards your fans, especially towards that portion of your fans for whom the songs you now dis actually mean something. Personally, I LOVE "We Throw Parties You Throw Knives" and don't appreciate a) being made to feel self-conscious about that, as if my love for that song rather than the boring new These Are Listed Buildings means I am less intelligent/have bad music taste/don't "get" what they're doing now b) being told what songs of theirs I should have a preference for. Same with their statements about the new album. Okay, you might think that this is your best, most mature work and that's fine: most artists say that for every new album; they kind of have to. Just don't say- I can't remember the exact quote but something like - "anyone who doesn't think this is our best album is wrong." I'll pick my own favourite songs and albums, thank you very much. And because I suddenly feel I've portrayed myself as a whiny LC-hater (while I'm just an annoyed LC-lover) or, even worse, as the kind of person who thinks the first album or obscure EP (of ANY band) is always better than the new album because that's "too commercial, dude" I will also say the following. There IS one thing Pitchfork did get right:
For some, the cohesive, self-assured Romance will be their favorite Los Campesinos! record; others will continue to prefer the extremity of what came before. That's the breaks with an intensely personal band like this, I suppose; you're going to get intensely personal reactions.
Thanks for reading my intensely personal reaction. Now go listen to the album and develop your own. I'd love to hear all about it.

*Pitchfork's reaction to that debacle (Editors) was much more to my liking: "Give 'em credit here for going a long way towards dismantling what we've come to know about Editors." or "You know that kid in your dorm who took a semester's worth of intro lit and philosophy classes as a license to use the word "Kafka-esque" at every opportunity? 'In This Light and on This Evening' is for that guy."


sarah_c said...

I agree with a lot of this post. In high culture, there is often an incorrent correlation between "difficulty" and value. The same applies for the "high" bits of pop culture. LC! seem to think that writing songs with multiple key changes, bizarre time signatures, wilful discords, and a lack of choruses somehow AUTOMATICALLY grants these tracks the status of "good" music. It doesn't.
It's irritating that, due to this fallacy of difficulty = value, the band are now discarding some of their earlier, very good, songs (a strength of these, for me, is the lyrics: wonderfully specific, but not in the overly self-involved, navel-gazing, or inpenetrably personal way some of their later stuff is). It's also irritating that this makes me (a long time fan) feel bad about liking YTP,WTK, or whatever - although this does seem typical of the band's relationship with their fans (in a word, intense: from the extreme highs of the Record Box contest, to the extreme lows of Gareth rejecting friend requests on Myspace from people who don't like the "right" kind of music).

HOWEVER - I do still think there's a lot of great stuff on the new album! 'The Sea Is...' is just sublimely beautiful, and there are still lots of great, "fun" tracks, such as 'Romance Is Boring' (esp. coupled with the video) and 'Straight In AT 101'. Like WAB,WAD, the lack of instant hooks makes this a slow burner, but I think it WILL reward some (detached from the reviews/interviews) listening! :)

Eliza K. said...

Sarah! Thanks for taking the time to write this. There does definitely seem to be - for many - a correlation between "difficulty" and value and, I would add, between unapproachability and value. And it's all related to the way we consume culture, whether it be music, movies, books, clothes: because if we think these things define who we are and so (that explains why) many people want to and try so hard to embrace everything that seems hard-to-like and unapproachable, everything that the least number of people is likely to enjoy and/or know of. Because the more idiosyncratic our choices are the more individual and special we feel, right? By liking and enjoying something many people don't we come close to feeling a little bit authentic, different, original, separate from the rest. "Oh, look at me, I'm a fan of Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji - his compositions are so difficult and lengthy that most pianists can't even play them so that must make him (and me!) cool." Sometimes this way of thinking seems understandable (if not unavoidable) because, hell, how many ways DO we have of approaching any kind of individuality? Sometimes, however, it plunges me deep into despair and depression because I want something more real than that, damn it.

I agree with what you said about the band's lyrics, their recent ones appear to me to be much more introverted. Also, many of their wonderful pop culture references of the previous records seem to have disappeared, or at least, lessened significantly. And, again, this doesn't feel like a natural evolution but more like a conscious decision.

As for the new songs, 'The Sea' is indeed a great song - it has grown on me a lot from the first time I heard it. Lyrically though, I don't think it's as great as some of their first songs. I prefer them in witty, light, self-referential, sarcastic, postmodern, facetious mode than heavy, depressing, Lars Von Trier mode. Not that I think they should avoid tackling heavy subjects like the ones in 'The Sea..." but, judging from their attempts so far, it seems these themes don't necessarily bring out Gareth's talent as a lyricist.