Losing ground on Los Campesinos

Sometimes I wish I would just write about sports. Everything is so orderly and laid-out in front of you. Stats, standings and heroic come-back narratives just waiting to be hyperbolized. We all look at the same game, the same stat sheets, but sports writers get to form the narrative of how—the causal mechanisms of life's sociopolitical phenomena manifest in inter-human contest. Geeze, just writing about writing about sports gets me excited. But those kinds of causal implications are near impossible to discern in music unless we bunker up with the artists in the studio—we don't know what happened, and guessing blindly only gets us in trouble.

Of course, music isn't all bad, and there are surely more songs and albums released in a given week than there are sporting contests I'm interested in. But I can't help but find myself searching for something with a similar bottom line, something objective. If a band does poorly, I want to write about it as if it's a loss. And even so, I want that loss to mean something, like an upset or something that somehow re-aligns social hierarchy and confuses human mores. Most of us get attached to bands much like we do athletes, and that creates the kind of zero-sum outcomes that peddle sports writing. But the problem is, everyone's conception of "zero," in this case, is different. What is a failure to me may be a mid-level exception to someone else. What may be a disappointment to me may be a predictably poor performance to someone else. What's worse—what may be a miserable collapse to me may be a triumphant conquest to someone else. There is no hard evidence for us to build from. And that's inherent in an artform with no established way to discern winners and losers.

But sometimes things happen outside of albums or songs that do lend themselves to a clear feeling of loss. And that's what I'm beginning to feel about Los Campesinos!. We can trace the entire saga back to an exchange of blog posts: the first from Ollie, the second bearing the hashtag of the entirety of LC!.

It all seems amicable enough, each side remorseful of Ollie's departure. But there has to be some moving part we're not getting—some causal mechanism. It's altogether likely that someone has gotten ill and required him to leave, or perhaps Ollie was finally offered a contract with the Food Network. But they haven't stopped touring, and there are two bits of info that might mean more than we're letting on.

The title of Ollie's post, "Dry route to Devon, so great, like heaven, I think that we are losing a way," is, of course, a lyric to the Pavement song "Westie Can Drum," in which the lyrics of Ollie's title conclude with, "Westie, he cannot drum."

LC! have stretched themselves musically with each record, and their latest, this year's Romance is Boring, reached an apex of instrumental flourishes and breaks—a few of which bordered on inane and grating, no doubt. They no longer carried the same kids-running-through-the-fountain abandon, and instead conveyed far more garishness than they'd allowed in the past. It was almost as if, instead of stumbling upon their subtle genius, they were swinging for the fences from the start, less coy than poised. And at some points they did mash some taters, but at others they were their own worst enemies—too serious to be taken seriously. But I gave them credit for stepping up to the plate—writing directly about themselves instead of hiding behind metaphors forever—until they dropped this.

Part of LC!'s biggest appeal was that none of them were qualified for success, and that's why they were all perfect for each other. But the "Princess Version" would be laughably overwrought and trite if my wilting heart didn't stifle my chuckles. And I'm even more afraid that this whole mess is systematic of their shift from tongue-in-cheek affability to teetering grandeur. What I'm saying is, the "Princess Version" might be the kind of thing an unprofessional drummer (read: Ollie) might not have been able to execute—thus the switch in personnel. That said, it's a one-off on the Internet that I'm probably blowing out of proportion (and Ollie's no slouch on drums in his own right). Like I said, there's no causal relationship in music blogging. But while I'm loathe to drag around my once-favorite band like this, empirical evidence is beginning to pile up against them. I feel like I'm beginning to see an objective loss carried out in real time. And it's making me think sports writing wouldn't be all that fun after all.

I want to make a claim about band purity and how "selling out" no longer implies gentrification, but I'm not sure I even know what that means in this case. After all, it was when Gareth stopped cluttering his personal messages with pop culture metaphors that the band would have started to lose sight of themselves—personal clarity yielding mass confusion. Yet, when it's all said and done, there's something very refreshing about this video. Makes me nostalgic for a time when profundity was still in subtleties, and nuances didn't necessarily mean exposing an ugly underbelly; for a time when LC! didn't need to swing for the fences to hit a home run. (That might have been overkill.)


1 comment: