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Camera Obscura- Underachievers Please Try Harder- Merge 2004

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Camera Obscura- Underachievers Please Try Harder- Merge Records 2004

Let’s just get this little part over with, acknowledge the elephant in the room as it were. Blah, blah, blah, Belle & Sebastian. Blah, blah, blah, Stuart Murdoch. Blah, blah, blah, Scotland. Blah, blah, blah, Richard Colburn once on drums. Feel better? Did I meet your needs to address the obvious? Good. Now let’s forget about all that nonsense and focus on this release in and of itself. Not a “new release”, rather released this past winter on Merge after an initial release abroad on Spain’s most excellent Elefant Records (which is also responsible for a relatively solid Galaxie 500 tribute album “Snowstorm” that I picked up while in London earlier this year). For every in-your-face act like the Franz coming from across the pond, there is an underappreciated, lush, traditional indie-pop outfit that deserves to command more listening time on your ipod. Enter Camera Obscura (also gracing this category, the quite stunning The Clientele and The Aislers Set).

Despite the fact that Camera Obscura seems to meet every element in the LIRC formula for bands that command both the ipod and my concert budget, they are a relatively fresh addition to my collection. I thankfully discovered them thanks in part to a few mp3’s and recommendations forwarded to me from friends in England and an odd free night in my schedule when the band played at Maxwell’s pre-Merge fest. Normally it takes a band of a level like Luna’s for me to make the trek to Hoboken. It’s really a shame that Maxwell’s is such a stellar venue, offering a great line-up of shows, solid pre-show food and reasonably priced drinkage (not to mention the ability to light-up indoors for those that smoke). The price you pay is the frightening walk from the PATH down the semi-urban outdoor yuppie mall that Washington Ave has become (and that is just on the way there). After the show, if you happen to live in NYC (or, worse, a part of Brooklyn accessible by the L) you then have to repeat the march to the PATH which now runs about as often as the weekend G and then make at minimum two subway transfers during the MTA disco hours where they suspend service and run trains on random tracks for shits and giggles. However, after cueing up a few of the MP3’s while deciding how to spend the evening, I took the gamble. Although the opening band, The Rosebuds, were a stale White Stripes sound-alike, I was more than impressed with Camera Obscura.

Under Achievers Please Try Harder is the band’s second full length release and is a quite solid album. The cd is a sort of antidote for a night at loud show. You know, the next morning when your ears are ringing enough to make you want to leave the headphones behind, but you realize how cranky your commute will be without them? Enter Underachievers’ lush and glistening ear aspirin. Camera Obscura have studied their Phil Spector and early 60’s rock/doowop and tapped into the clean guitar jangle backed by simple but melodic bass sound of their obvious forefathers, and arguably they do it better.

Traceyann Campbell has the slightly sweet, bookish, light voice you’d anticipate from looking at the thick-framed spectacle and knit cap wearing album photo. She is the honey to band mate, and contributing vocalist John Henderson’s milk.

Album highlights include the glittery Suspended from Class with it’s keyhole-crush of lyrics “I can be a friend to you, I won’t pretend I am not interested in breaking your heart; it’s not love, no its nothing like that, I leave that to lookers like him” and shimmering sweet candy hooks.

Knee Deep at the NPL is another winner providing well paired (more peas and carrots than Dean and Britta) counterpoint between John and Tracey that ends in a surprisingly cheeseless round. In Keep it Clean the band outdoes big brother Belle and Sebastian with perfectly self depreciating candor. This song is preciously orchestral and jangly in all the right ways.

Camera Obscura weaves tales of immature adult love, heartbreak, and longing with a countryesque tinge and a more than a taste for the “wall of sound”. Under Achievers Please Try Harder is a perfect salve for a mild heartbreak, and a lush soundtrack to a lazy Sunday with the papers and a large latte.

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  • Eric Olsen

    great job Jen, thanks! Good thing you included the obvious stuff, because I didn’t know it!

  • LIRC

    Thanks, one of my favorites of this year so far!