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Audio Reviews
Sticking Fingers Into Sockets
by Los Campesinos!
Wichita, Arts & Crafts (2007)
Sticking Fingers Into Sockets
Modern pop collectives are, for most, a bit of an acquired taste. The average pop imbiber has few-to-no problems with the accepted power trio (+1) formula of a drummer, bassist, lead and rhythm guitarists, where one doubles as lead singer. But, should you include a fifth member whose duties extend anywhere beyond posturing and holding a microphone, odds are exceedingly good that you’ve stretched the old formula a bit too much for the average listener’s comfort; add a sixth, seventh, eighth, or more, and you can pretty much kiss the Top 40 goodbye. Rotating memberships? Fuggedaboutit—that’s just too many names and faces to keep track of, let alone the added confusion of navigating through the instrumental cacophony of so many musicians playing at once.

Fortunately, the Billboard charts are hardly an accurate barometer for what is good, innovative, and worthwhile in music. While pop collectives may be a rare breed in the American musical superstructure, they seem to be surviving and thriving in the indie/underground scene… genre… whatever. This seems to be especially true in Canada and the UK, where pop-rock sextets, septets, octets, and nonets are practically a dime a dozen—twelve for 10p, even. Then again, that would be a duodectet, and more like 5p to 10¢ if you want to get into exchange rates and whatnot.

But I digress. Whichever the way, Great Britain and its non-rebellious colonial-era scions seem to be producing the lion and unicorn’s share of pop collectives these days, with the Cardiff-based seven-piece, Los Campesinos!, being but one among many. For the curious, that “many” would include the likes of New Pornographers, Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, Butcher Boy, Stars, Broken Social Scene, the Most Serene Republic, and Architecture in Helsinki.

Stylistically, the music of Los Campesinos! contains everything one would expect from a British pop group with so many members in the mix. To whit: sunshine-y lyrics and energetic compositions, upbeat rhythms, shimmering guitar riffs, synthesizers, glockenspiel sparkle, violin accents, hand-claps, self-awareness, sing-along choruses, and mewling boy-girl dialectics. It may be a well-worn path, but it’s not hard to imagine the seven members of Los Campesinos! skipping along gleefully, arm in arm, whistling their tunes whilst birds sing harmonies, everyone wearing a youthful smile as their umbrella and all that Disney-esque rot.

In other words: it’s classic twee in all of its super-saccharine glory. Not recommended for diabetics, consummate metal-heads, gangster rappers, emo kids, or piss-poor dancers.

Los Campesinos!’s second EP release, Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, also wanders into familiar territory. First and foremost, both “It Started With a Mixx” and “You! Me! Dancing!” appeared on their debut EP, Hold On Now, Youngster, and on 7” singles besides. Ditto for “We Throw Parties, You Throw Knives,” and “Don’t Tell Me to Do the Math(s).” Negative points for reusing tracks, maybe, but the rerecorded versions are nevertheless dripping with that infectiously vibrant essence of youth, distilled in pop form and pumped out through your speakers as croons, chords, and irresistibly danceable melodies.

Still, it’s pop music, and as such is readily digested and easily disposable. While the intro and instrumental interlude of “You! Me! Dancing!” provide a nice change of pace from the straight-up pop ruckus that permeates the entirety of Sticking Fingers Into Sockets, the whole affair is still little more than low-calorie ear-candy. Even the two album-specific tracks—the riff-fueled “Frontwards” and the 35-second, just-letting-you-know-that-you-should-have-this-album-on-repeat outro “Clunk-Rewind-Clunk-Play-Clunk”—offer only short lyrical diversions. New and novel this is not, even if it is remarkably entertaining the first time around.

Be that as it may, Los Campesinos! are great in moderation, perfect for quick trips in the car, and undoubtedly fantastic in their live performances. Just don’t expect their flavour to last terribly long, or to taste as great after a few consecutive listens.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Audio Reviews (September 30th, 2007)

Tags: audio, review, los campesinos!, sticking fingers into sockets, wichita records, arts & crafts