Camera Obscura Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi

[Andmoresound; 2001]

Styles: indie pop, chamber pop
Others: Belle & Sebastian, The Concretes, The Clientele

"Is this another one of those debuts released stateside after the second album was already made available?" Timothy groaned as he talked. The teacher frowned and the old wooden floor creaked. Timothy was always so sarcastic. She would've called on Jimmy””who is usually so agreeable””but he just slouched with his forehead on his desk, apparently protesting today's lesson of "another stupid pop band."

"Yes, they're debut was released last year. It was called Underachievers Please Try Harder." Ms. Benson tried to sound authoritative. Her husband, as he left home for good last week, had said he was tired of sleeping all night next to a woman he walked over all day.

But the children now mimicked Timothy, groaning in unison.

"I heard they sound just like Belle and Sebastian," she heard someone whisper in the back.

"Who said that?" snapped Ms. Benson, trying to regain her position as in loco parentis to these third-graders.

But nobody answered. Somebody coughed, so Ms. Benson turned around to write ‘Camera Obscura' in chalk on the board. And as she turned her back, someone began loudly humming the opening guitar riff to "Legal Man." The whole class laughed; Ms. Benson frowned. How could she get them to understand? She put the transparency of the album cover””Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi””on the overhead, flipped on the light, and began the day's lesson.

"Camera Obscura are from Glasgow… like Belle and Sebastian." She paused to let the children giggle at what they considered derivative. "And Stuart Murdoch, Belle and Sebastian's mastermind, did do the string arrangements on this album and even produces the first single, “Eighties Fan.” But my hypothesis, class, is that this band is more than mere imitators." Sally was writing furiously in the front row, no doubt adding "Eighties Fan" to her ‘must download' list.

Ms. Benson paused, thinking of how every time Tracyanne Campbell coos, "I'm going to tell you something good about yourself" on that track, she actually believes she's about to get a compliment via stereo.

Ms. Benson turned on the class boom box, generously donated by the Metz twins' dad, an electronics distributor. She pressed her finger to the play button and breathed out as she turned to "Houseboat."

Jeffrey, sitting in the back, was reading over his notes from yesterday when they studied the Apples in Stereo. He closed his notebook; he was tired of all these pop bands that weren't challenging music. He always found recycling at home tedious, and the musical kind was just as boring and mechanical. And as the song started, he couldn't help but think of ten other songs off the top of his head with the same strummed guitar chord arrangement.

But as John Henderson (the other CO vocalist) dripped his plaintive lyrics into the song, Jeffrey stopped picking the threads of his school uniform and started really listening. He thought the man delivered his lines like he had just opened the door and walked into a classroom late. He was unassuming, and the music backed him up perfectly. This wasn't Belle and Sebastian instrumentation to imitate Belle and Sebastian. It was Belle and Sebastian instrumentation to make beautiful pop music.

And as Tracyanne's voice floated over the understated harmonies and piano noodles of the chorus, Timothy put down his spitball. He still didn't smile, but he knew he didn't want to ruin this moment for anyone else with a wet one on the neck. He even let himself tap his foot along with the bridge's humble handclaps.

Ms. Benson turned the stereo off before the song ended. Jimmy, astonished and sitting up in his seat as usual, raised his hand and waved it frantically. Ms. Benson smiled and called on her favorite student.

"Ms. Benson, why'd you turn that off?"

"Oh," she said, doing her best smirk as she put the CD back in its jewel case. "I figured you'd want to listen to If You're Feeling Sinister instead."

"Not really," Jimmy said. "This is really…" he struggled for words. "This is really nice." The class nodded their heads.

And Ms. Benson knew they understood.

1. Happy New Year
2. Eighties Fan
3. Houseboat
4. Shine Like a New Pin
5. Pen and Notebook
6. Swimming Pool
7. Anti-Western
8. Let's Go Bowling
9. I Don't Do Crowds
10. The Sun On His Back
11. Double Feature
12. Arrangements of Shapes and Space