If you don’t want a lovesick pop song written about you, don’t date Gareth Campesinos! Throughout Hello Sadness, the lead singer of Los Campesinos! writes cathartic lyrics about a traumatic breakup. As can be expected from the Welsh pop group, the songs are refreshingly honest—Gareth never sugarcoats his grief. During “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope,” demonic birds feast upon Gareth’s innards, a straightforward allusion to the torture of Prometheus. “Baby I Got the Death Rattle” burns away the skin of his palms using a Bic lighter. Reveries about the female body—“swan necks curled between pelvis with stretch marks and shoulders and those freckled legs”—convey his sexual frustration. The album functions both as confession and elegy, treating his sorrow with his histrionic poetry.
Hello Sadness suffers from Gareth’s overdramatic tendencies. Clichés abound: Eyes are blue like seas, and horses are brought to water. Hearts break, and navels are stared at. When he strays from conventional wisdom, his abject logic is hard to bear. “Life is a Long Time” collapses under the weight of extensive, ornate metaphors for the bodies of ex-lovers, culminating in absurd couplets like “ And with the water and the Cypriot sun/ Would your psoriasis bleach and be gone?” These miscues are all the more disappointing given the band’s knack for placing poetic specificity into a catchy narrative. Only Los Campesinos! can romanticize the sound of a girlfriend’s urination through thin walls or reflect on the “cartography” of scars on a woman’s legs. The problem is, Gareth’s turns of phrase are better suited to humor instead of the album’s depressive tone.
The album’s instrumentation far outperforms its vocals. “By Your Hand” could easily be mistaken for an I’m From Barcelona single with its glitzy piano backdrops and buoyant drumbeats. “Songs About Your Girlfriend” evokes the catchy and fast-paced licks of Spoon’s Transference. “To Tundra” is so much better when its prog rock guitars are not drowned out by Gareth’s voice. Repress the album’s troublesome lyrics, and Hello Sadness becomes quite enjoyable. Give him a few years to recover, and we can hope that Los Campesinos! will return with the exuberance and playfulness that’s endeared them to us for the past three albums.