A first listen to the sturdy fourth album by Welsh cadre Los Campesinos!, Hello Sadness, can be distressing. Gareth Campesinos! snarls uncomfortably naked lines; the music vacillates almost incongruously from overcharged to restrained; and the whole ordeal feels profoundly removed from the band's previous work. Yet subsequent spins reveal Hello Sadness as a classic case of band maturation, carefully executed and often deeply moving.
"By Your Hand," the album's swaggering opener, coupled with the album's best anthem, the surging "Hello Sadness," presents subtle variations on what Los Campesinos! has always done well: group sing-alongs; cutting, intimate lyrics; and displays of musical catharsis. As thrilling as these tunes are, however, the comparably jangly, muscular tune "The Black Bird, the Dark Slope" is a bit exhausting.
The true successes for Los Campesinos! on Hello Sadness are the atypical moments. The haunting, slight "Hate for the Island" is febrile and alluring; "To Tundra" is a gorgeous, organically electronic number; and the stunning closer "Light Leaves, Dark Sees Pt. II" is a slinky, slow-burning ballad. It suggests a new avenue that can only enhance this strong group.
Due to the album's engaging, unique moments, including the driving, caustic "Songs About Your Girlfriend," its miscues are more forgivable. For instance, even Gareth's continued obsession with soccer finds some charm in "Every Defeat a Divorce (Three Lions)."
If the holidays truly are an abjectly miserable, difficult time for many individuals, then Los Campesinos! may have released the holiday album par excellence.