One of the major strengths of indie pop octet Los Campesinos! (don't you dare forget the exclamation point) is their ability to take so many clichés of their genre - namely, pushing tongue in cheek lyrics and quirkiness just a bit too much - and make them listenable. Starting with their debut Hold on Now, Youngster..., they displayed a brisk energy with highly catchy songs that, as annoying as they should have been, were just too quick to get you moving along with the music. This is even with the acceptance that the band carries an aura that is not quite smug, but definitely reveling in their supposed eccentricity. As Beavis and Butt-head pointed out with startling clarity during a um.. critique of Jill Sobule's I Kissed a Girl video: "These houses look fake, Butt-head." "Of course they do. That's like, the whole point of college music... to like, make the suburbs look bad." The ultimate focus isn't the same, but the sentiment is - "you go ahead and be ordinary, we're free spirits and we're so unique and different!" That forced caprice is something that is all too present in the general indie genre, and most bands aren't talented enough to rise above it, though Los Campesinos! is able to pull it off.
Lead male vocalist Gareth Campesinos! (another somewhat obnoxious "idiosyncrasy" of the band, each member's last name is listed as Campesinos!) is a large part of why Romance Is Boring, and the band in general really, should be too grating to be enjoyable. He starts off with that boyfriend-trying-to-be-sexy voice with the first track, In Medias Res, whispering, "But let's talk about you for a minute, with the vomit at your gullet, from a half bottle of vodka that we'd stolen from the optic." Medias has a drastic change in mood however, going from wild young lovers to the idealization of not having to die alone - "If you were given the option of dying painlessly in peace at forty-five, but with a lover at your side, after a full and happy life. Is this something would interest you?" In one song, the lyrical focus shifts from one indie cliché to another, with Gareth attempting a sort of croon that simply does not work with a heavy accent made more grating by being laden with a bratty sense of irony. That type of voice is more apt to deliver knowingly unclever, hipster lines like "I think we need more post-coital and less post-rock," which are abundant in an album loaded with ridiculous song titles like I Just Sighed. I Just Sighed, Just So You Know and This Is a Flag. There Is No Wind.
In spite of all this, it's really difficult to give Romance Is Boring a bad review, simply because it's performed so well. It doesn't take long to realize just how densely packed the album is sonically - each of the eight performers (with the addition of Kim, on the all-too-important post of piccolo player) is worth their weight in gold here. Guitars, synths, glockenspiels, trumpets, violins, and even more instruments are put together in a very tight arrangement, and they each work in such an impressive conjunction that the extreme business is immediately apparent but never overwhelming. There Are Listed Buildings' typical "ba-ba, ba-ba" harmonizing sounds so much prettier and warmer with the paired horns, guitar, and glockenspiel, with an appropriately alternating beat. The title track is another early winner, with a bit more of a straight forward approach and riding almost solely on the band's ability to write great melodies, what with the only real extra layers being a feedback ridden guitar.
Two somewhat somber interludes come in at perfect moments, one (200-102, a simple yet diverse string piece) following the great, disjointed Plan A, and the other (Heart Swells, 100-1, an echo drowned segment) coming in between the frenetic pair of I Warned You: Do Not Make an Enemy of Me and I Just Sighed. The slight breathers are also spaced quite well, marking the beginning and end of the album's middle, and saves the album from dragging too much, seeing as the lighter, gentler moments here are a bit scant.
Romance Is Boring shows a bit more focus on bringing all of the band's different elements together, rather than giving a sheer adrenaline rush like on their debut. All the same, their catchiness is well in tact, and Romance hardly sees the band slowing down. Los Campesinos! have still got plenty of irritating qualities, but praising their music is hardly begrudging, and it's kind of nice to see a band embracing such polarity; if you already hate indie, you will loathe this to no end; if you love it, you just might fall in love.