Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Los Campesinos!. Sticking Fingers into Sockets (Arts and Crafts, 2007)

"And yeah it's sad that you think that we're all just scenesters/ And even if we were it's not the scene you're thinking of."

It's a nice thing when a band's enthusiasm and sheer joy in rockingness shine through on an album. When the band sounds completely stoked to be playing, it's hard for the listener not to feel completely stoked about listening, and the band and the audience unite in a state of stoked that's pretty exciting. This is what it's like listening to Welsh group Los Campesinos!'s short LP (long EP? At six songs, it's kind of a gray area) Sticking Fingers into Sockets, a handful of songs wearing its feverish pop passion on its sleeve, failing wonderfully to show any restraint at all.

Los Campesinos! pack a lot into each tune, with boy-girl vocals trading off on sing-along melodies, fuzz-tone guitar, sprinting rhythms, frantically pounded keyboards, and sporadic strings. The end result is a busy, overstimulated sound that goes straight for the pleasure center of your brain. Towards the end of each song, the group tends to go completely nuts until everything just sorta collapses in on itself. And then a new song starts. It's a cycle of sonic addiction.

Album opener "We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives" sets the party atmosphere right away, as the singer exhorts, "I'll sing what you like/ if you shout it straight back at me," and the song bursts into a rousing chorus driven by crashing drums and airy girlgroup vocals. Next up is "It Started with a Mixx," a nostalgic ode to the lost art/frustrations of mixtape alchemy, handclaps and plucked strings underscoring a wistful melody as the singer pines, "Trying to find the perfect match between pretentious and pop/ Some crappy artwork that took way way too long to draw/ Handwritten tracklisting restarted every time the pen smudged/ Encoded title doesn't give away as much as it should." Remember that? When a 90 minute mixtape took, like, three hours to make and seemed really important? Los Campesinos! do.

"Don't Tell Me to Do the Math[s]" is a charmer, as well, as the stampeding beats and spiky guitar workouts make room for toy piano interludes and lilting strings. An effing adorable cover of Pavement's "Frontwards," from the classic Watery, Domestic EP (which is probably due for a writeup of its own one of these days), is a highlight of this collection. Los Campesinos! play it pretty straight, but the song comes across like they must have felt the first time they heard it: charged, elated, caught up in its pure hooky genius. It's an exuberant, instantly endearing take on the tune, and it's over before it even begins. "You! Me! Dancing!" follows "Frontwards" with another stunner, a celebration of basement parties and being too young to care about the terrible, insanely fun decisions you inevitably make. The main riff is inspired chunky distortion, thrusting the song onto the listener with willful abandon, the background singers going all "ooooh-ooooh" all over the place and your ears exploding from the sugar high.

Los Campesinos! are really, really excited to be here, man. That's pretty obvious. And you should be, too, because Sticking Fingers into Sockets is an exhilarating slice of indiepop. Have some.