Camera Obscura Underachievers Please Try Harder

[Merge; 2004]

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

Camera Obscura definitely belongs with the British indie purists. Simple melodies, cut and paste arrangements of horns, organs, and guitars, combined with softly sung female vocals. They are unprepossessing in style, dainty and sweet in quality. John Peel even seems to likes them; so, you get the idea. Only, there seems to be something slightly sinister about the whole affair. I find myself whistling those inconsequential hooks all day long. Dammit, this stuff is more infectious than Kylie.

Somehow you get the impression that Stuart Murdoch influenced more than just the artwork of the record (he took the cover photo): crisp Scottish accents, dry humor, and upbeat indie lullabies are rife throughout. Beneath the surface of featherweight cutesy rhythms and playful, bouncy xylophones lays a dense heart; "I think separation is okay / You're no star to guide me anyway." Lyrically, the record is brilliant but you'd expect no less from an outfit north of Hadrian's Wall these days. Arab Strap, Ballboy, The Pastels, and many other Scots have set the standard for cheerfully honest yet painfully truthful ballads.

The record really does have a lilting energy that is an ever-present force. Camera Obscura know how to exploit this consistency; at times, the emphasis moves to the lush feminine vocals, at others complicated orchestration of bells, flute, and sixties-soul style backing chants (literally "baby love") take precedent. This is grade-A quality indie pop for lazy days and reflective nights.

"I don't want to be part of your scene," they proclaim on "Keep It Clean." Maybe that's the one problem, though. They certainly don't fit into any particularly current pigeonhole, but that's not to say it hasn't been done before.

1. Suspended From Class
2. Keep It Clean
3. A Sister's Social Agony
4. Teenager
5. Before You Cry
6. Your Picture
7. Number One Son
8. Let Me Go Home
9. Books Written for Girls
10. Knee Deep at the NPL
11. Lunar Sea