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Camera Obscura: Underachievers Please Try Harder


Camera Obscura

Album: Underachievers Please Try Harder
Label: Merge

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Following the path of such literate record-collecting Glaswegians as Belle And Sebastian and Life Without Buildings, Scottish indie-pop septet Camera Obscura delves into the realm of retro pastiche. Since Stuart Murdoch produced Camera Obscura's debut album and took photos for its second, it's no surprise that the group's sound is more in line with the Belles than the Buildings. Camera Obscura's second disc, Underachievers Please Try Harder, packages 13 deceptively twee songs behind cover art that mimics a late-'60s look, right down to the outfits and the "includes" tag. But from the start, with the fragile "Suspended From Class," Camera Obscura plays with its image, rhyming the title with "I don't know my elbow from my ass." Later, in the slow-dance-friendly "A Sisters Social Agony," Carey Lander and Tracyanne Campbell sing, "Play indie rock if that's what you want / Quote Mike Leigh films if it will turn them all on." The self-conscious juxtaposition of archaic pop styles and contemporary lyrics is mirrored by the band's overt Leonard Cohen copy "Your Picture" and the distanced girl-group moves of "Teenager," which come complete with a theremin solo. The band blows kisses at its heroes with one hand while raising a middle finger with the other. And if Camera Obscura weren't roughly the thousandth band to recombine the pastoral sounds and adolescent exploitation of the '60s, it would be easier to work up some enthusiasm for Underachievers, especially since the group's melodies are catchy enough that they don't need the cutesy trappings. A fully rocking version of "Teenager," among other tracks, would be preferable to the pretty-but-sparkless rendition here. But those who like this sort of nice, naïve/knowing dichotomy will revel in the album's nuances, from the woven picking and plaintive trumpet of "Lunar Sea" to the aptly titled, Belle And Sebastian-esque "Keep It Clean." Underachievers' best song, "Let Me Go Home," interlaces a jaunty show tune and shiny guitars to come up with something like a lullaby, a sound that will suit fans happier in their slumber.