(Camera Obscura, Berlin 25/8/06, photo by pelforth)
Considering that, in my humble opinion, the year's best album so far has been by Belle & Sebastian, is it a good idea to release an album that sounds a lot like the aforementioned indie-pop superstars? Is it worth the constant comparisons, the lazy journalism, the potential apathy of a marketplace? Well, in some cases, yes. Focus on the female vocals of early B&S, up the organ and string quotient, throw in a little of this trendy country-pop that's swept the American indie scene and you have Camera Obscura.
Of course, I've fallen victim to lazy journalism. It's an easy trap to fall into, and in some respects not all that bad: if you're trying to convince someone to like a band you're going to say that, ooh, they sound like a stripped-down Arcade Fire, or ah, imagine Joss Stone meets Joss Ackland, or something equally inane, rather than getting down to the nitty gritty of how their sound is constructed - well, they take a Boss DS1 and filter it through a hard-knee gate to tune the feedback into pitch (not convinced that's possible actually, now I mention it, although it would be fun to try).
But it's easy to compare Camera Obscura to Belle & Sebastian. They're both part of the fertile Glaswegian indie breeding ground, they both specialise in heartfelt pop songs, artfully constructed to reveal glimpses of the heartache within. But more importantly than this, they've both created one of those effortlessly, instantly charming albums this, one of those that gets a hook in and somehow refuses to leave.
I've had the opening track, Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken in my head for what seems like an age now, despite only hearing the band for the first time last week sometime. It's one of those wonderful opening tracks that set a stall for the album, and grab your attention straight away. It has a cute video too, a headrush of pre-psychedelic wall-hangings and dancing - I'm talking proper, Singin' In The Rain dancing, none of your OK Go nerd-dancing, and you can find it on their website.
The website is worth a look, if only for the personal touches: Tracy-Anne Campbell provides a regular C90 mixtape suggestion list that belies her miserable appearance in the video; Gavin Dunbar regularly updates his recipe list (I approve, food is ace); Lee Thomson on film; Kenny McKeeve's advice column; Nigel Baillie's Top Fives; Carey Lander's book summaries. They even have a proper, old-skool blog.
So yeah, listen to the songs, enjoy the music and allow yourself to be swept along by a guileless, charming and unpretentious band that may have produced one of the best albums of the year. The songs are freely available to stream on MySpace, by the way, except for the remix from the band's website.
Camera Obscura - Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken
Camera Obscura - Country Mile
Camera Obscura - Books Were Written For Girls (Synonym remix)
Artists: Camera Obscura
Websites: camera-obscura.net, MySpace, blog
Recommended: Let's Get Out Of This Country
Buy: Amazon, Simbiotic (recommended)
More: Hype Machine; elbo.ws; FiL's live review
Tags: Camera Obscura; indie; Merge; Synonym; Belle & Sebastian