The album took the band’s ramshackle sound and transformed it into something cleaner, brighter and even more infectious.
Los Campesinos! had a remarkably fruitful year in 2008. In February, the Welsh indie-rock startup released their debut album, Hold on Now, Youngster, a noisy, irresistible blast of pop music that felt like the product of an alternate-universe Belle & Sebastian if they’d come up a decade later after listening to one too many Pavement records. At the center of the seven-piece band was Gareth Campesinos!, who saw fit to make his songwriting as witty as possible, allowing for lines like “Splitting necks and calling it dichotomy” and this back-and-forth conversation with keyboardist Aleks Campesinos!: “And there were conversations about which Breakfast Club character you’d be/ I’d be the one that dies.” “No one dies.” “Well, then what’s the point?”
Following that great record, fans barely had to wait to see what the band would do for their sophomore effort. We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed came out a scant eight months later and radically altered the band’s trajectory. Originally billed as an extended EP (they have since buckled and admitted that it is, in fact, their second album), We Are Beautiful wastes no time before displaying the band’s progression. If Youngster was their Tigermilk, We Are Beautiful is their If You’re Feeling Sinister. The album comes in just a hair over 30 minutes and they cram every ounce of charm they can into that half hour. Thanks to indie superstar producer John Goodmanson (who has produced each Los Campesinos! record since), the album took the band’s ramshackle sound and transformed it into something cleaner, brighter and even more infectious.
Everything feels improved on this second album—from the production to the composition to musicianship. The lyrics, while irresistibly charming throughout Youngster, feel light years ahead of where Los Campesinos! left off; they went from cute-but-crass lines like “I’ll be Ctrl+Alt+Deleting your face with no reservations” to “She imagined everything I said in falsetto/ The only way to justify my childish despair” in just a few months. Opener “Ways to Make It Through the Wall” announces itself with one of the band’s sharpest opening lines, both sonically and lyrically: “I think it’s fair to say that I chose hopelessness/ And inflicted it on the rest of us/ But at least I’ve come to terms with my own mortality.” It’s not their best song, but “Ways” felt like the announcement of a band more concerned with forging an identity than they had earlier that year.
The album’s front half contains what could be two of the band’s most seemingly effortless songs to date, “Miserabilia” and the title track. Both of these tracks lay so much groundwork for what the band’s sound would blossom into on their third album, Romance Is Boring, and everything beyond that. “Miserabilia” plays with their fantastic loud-quiet-loud dynamic while delivering chugging guitars and Gareth and Aleks trading off vocal duties, leading to one of Aleks’ best lines on the record: “Your hands will remain empty when you have stopped clutching at straws/ Cling to bad memories, forget all the insufferable bores.” It also features one of the best shout-along moments on the record: “Shout at the world because the world doesn’t love you/ Lower yourself cause you know that you’ll have to.” The other comes midway through “We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed”: “Oh, we kid ourselves there’s future in the fucking/ But there is no fucking future!” the band chants. This track is the album’s best, with Gareth rapid-fire delivering immaculate line after immaculate line, with the best of them being spoken: “I taught myself the only way to vaguely get along in love/ Is to like the other slightly less than you get in return/ I keep feeling like I’m being undercut.”
This sardonic wit is the band’s core. One of the best improvements with We Are Beautiful, though, was the relationship between the wordy Gareth and the rest of the band. Seven members is a lot to work with, and most songs on Youngster felt full to the brim, but here there’s an ebb and flow. The lush, stripped-back “Heart Swells/Pacific Daylight Time” plays with quiet melodies and manipulated vocals in two bite-sized halves, painting soft pictures of yearning and adoration: “I don’t want to sound trite, but you were perfect,” Gareth coos over a delicate bed of fingerpicking and simple drumbeat. The songs of Youngster sound like they’re fun to play, but the songs of We Are Beautiful sound like they were fun to make. Songs playfully build and burst, like “It’s Never That Easy Though, Is It? (Song for the Other Kurt)” or the apocalyptic vibes of “You’ll Need Those Fingers for Crossing,” a nice pairing with its dramatic story about body dysmorphia and messages to God in the end times.
Following this album, Los Campesinos! would take two years to come back with Romance Is Boring, an even better, even more experimental record. We Are Beautiful laid the groundwork for a lot of themes that surface in Romance Is Boring and beyond—there is another “Documented Minor Emotional Breakdown,” thankfully, and more songs in the “Heart Swells” sonic family. It’s a thrill to watch bands explode in quality over short spans of time, and We Are Beautiful remains an important part of Los Campesinos!’s artistic growth.