Camera Obscura

    Underachievers Please Try Harder


    Library music just got a new bestseller.


    Camera Obscura, Scotland’s latest answer to chamber-pop, attempts to mirror their heroes — Cohen, Wilson and, dare I say, Belle & Sebastian — but does a rather bland job of it. B&S lead man Stuart Murdoch produced Camera Obscura’s debut Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, released by Andmoresound in 2002, and snapped the photography for this cover sleeve. It makes sense that Underachievers replicas Camera Obscura’s fellow Glasgow contemporaries more than anything else.

    Unfortunately, Camera Obscura copies B&S’s style a little too well. The record sounds like an utter rip-off of the B&S hum, from lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell’s monotonous singing, to the lyrics, to the structure of the songs, to the instruments used, to the freaking album cover. B&S is private but not insular, pretty but not wimpy; they make delicate melodies sound full-bodied. The downfall of Camera Obscura is they’re incapable of capturing that same effect.

    Problem is, there are a thousand other bands that combine the pastoral sounds and adolescent manipulation of the ’60s, and Camera Obscura is nothing special. The group first formed in 1996, when Campbell, drummer John Henderson and bassist Gavin Dunbar started playing together. They went on to release a number of singles, one of them including the contribution of Richard Colburn, Belle & Sebastian’s drummer.

    Their latest handiwork, packaged in a faux-late-’60s motif, is definitely a record for those who would be slitting their wrists, if only they weren’t too busy reading Oscar Wilde books.

    Mellower than a Mozart for Babies, Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals rage barely above a whisper, and throughout the 13 tracks, it appears as though Campbell and Co. tries to keep a healthy theme of a cutesy “look, we’re not quite emo” quirkiness. “A Sisters Social Agony” resembles a cross between an all-girls’ choir and slow songs they played at school dances in the ’50s.

    The only semi-interesting bit is “Teenager,” which begins with a nifty guitar riff and reverberates a Wild West whistle. Still, as decent as that moment is, it doesn’t make up for the overall shortcoming enthusiasm. It would’ve been preferable to see a rocked-out version of that song, along with many others to counterbalance the sheer lackluster.

    The band has everything it needs to create a good record, they just need to weed out that Belle & Sebastian sound and transform it into a Camera Obscura definition.