Wednesday, September 2, 2009
#120. 'All crop tops and testosterone passion'
Los Campesinos! "You! Me! Dancing!"
Los Campesinos! are, in theory, the most annoying band to ever be thought up by anyone ever. Seven kids from Wales who fill their songs with all manner of obscure instruments, credit the members responsible for their hand claps, write lyrics that think they're far more clever than they are in actuality and sing like obnoxious children while making music that's the auditory equivalent of mainlining pixie-stix after eating a 2 kg tub of jelly beans? That sounds exactly like the type of band I avoid at all costs, and having heard both the Sticking Fingers into Sockets EP and Hold On Now, Youngster... I can say that it's fairly accurate. Los Campesinos! are the precocious child actor of Pitchfork-approved indie rock, and I hate precocious child actors. Except for the fact that there wound up being one song that synthesized everything I'd hate about the band into something undeniably awesome, and that was the one I heard first.
One of my bad habits is that I will extend a band a LOT of good will if the first song of theirs I hear blows me away to any degree. If it turns out to be a fluke I feel a bit cheap and used (in the 'I trusted you, dammit!' sense) but it's worth it for that one song more times than not. "You! Me! Dancing!" illustrates this point pretty solidly; I'd be perfectly happy if it were the only Los Campesinos! song I'd ever heard but the fact that most of their other material annoys me doesn't detract from it in the slightest. The funny thing is that everything about LC! that grates my nerves is on full display here, no attempt made to hide them at all. The vocals are just as obnoxious, the lyrics just as faux-clever, the music just as toothache-inducingly sugary...and yet it works. It works damn well.
There are four things that the song has working for it that make it so damned irresistable to my ears: The guitar riff, the guitar riff doubled by violin, the guitar riff doubled by xylophone or glockenspiel or whatever and the opening minute or so before the guitar riff first appears. Yes, I know that three of those four things are just variations of each other, but have you heard that guitar riff? If I could figure out a way to represent it onomatopoeically that would have been the title of this post because that's the song's charm right there. It's not a complex, twisty riff or even a textured one like a lot of my favorite guitar riffs, just a series of eighth notes rampaging forward without any want or need to cease. As a straight guitar riff it's irresistible in spite of it's disdain for subtlty, but when other band member layer their own instruments on top of it it becomes something more I can't quite put my finger on what exactly it is, but the fact that it's not a straight doubling, each instrument plays slight variations on the riff over the guitar, adds some more layers and texture to what was once just a straight, but fairly awesome, guitar part.
The build up is important too, if only because it's the only time the band takes it down a notch and lets the song build naturally. For the first 75 seconds there's a whole different atmosphere, closer to a post-rock instrumental than the energetic tweeness that would overtake the song, yet the way it builds and builds in the last bit might be part of what makes the song work as a whole. Really, you couldn't just kick it off at the 76 second mark and have the song work anywhere near as well, there needs to be something to build up to the riff. Honestly, I remember the intro section being much more than the relatively scant 75 seconds (talking about the single/Sticking Fingers... version here as opposed to the album one) presented, it felt longer and I mean that as a compliment. Sure it's just build up to the riff, but I could see myself listening to a song based solely on the intro section before it starts to explode. It may exist only to serve the main riff, making its entrance seem grandiose instead of abrupt, but it's a nice enough little snippet to get lost in.
Coming up tomorrow: Southern boys make good before they make it big.