Sat July 17, Neumo's, 7 pm, $10 adv/$12 DOS, all ages.
Argue if you must, but I have to say this: Belle & Sebastian totally suck now. Despite my continued patience, they haven't put out a solid record in six years, and I'm beginning to feel sort of cheated. And before you start your whole spiel about how Dear Catastrophe Waitress is so good, please--save it: The record's got about four decent songs, and the rest is shit. Sure, they've had their brief returns to genius over the past few years, but when all is said and done, their time has come.
To my fellow disappointed, though, do I have some exciting news to share. Please allow me to redirect your adoration slightly to the left, where I hope you'll find your replacement Glaswegian saviors--the reluctant septet known as Camera Obscura.
Now, before we get off of the ground, I'd like to formally apologize to Camera Obscura for the all-to-obvious device that I've already begun to undertake in this article--as I'm sure they've had more than enough trouble with the shadow of celebrated neighbors; a shadow that they are really too good to be darkened by. But even from the stance of a person strongly engaged with the particulars of their individual brands of '60s revisionism, it must be said that Camera Obscura sound a lot like Belle & Sebastian.
Not to be mistaken with the seemingly-defunct San Diego hardcore band of the same name, Camera Obscura UK formed in Glasgow in 1996, revolving around songwriter and lead vocalist Tracyanne Campbell's distinctly subtle wit and wry, Scottish delivery. After the release of a few UK singles and some early personnel shifts, the band began to blimp, eventually settling on a six-piece lineup of predictably pasty distinction. In 2001 they released Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, an understated debut that featured a minor UK hit in "Eighties Fan"--a single produced by Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch, a distinction that would prove to be the death nail in their eternal Belle & Sebastian association.
Early this year Merge released their sophomore record stateside--the keenly titled Underachievers Please Try Harder--on the strength of which the band (now a seven-piece) has been deservedly creating substantial noise. The record is a dramatic maturation of their previous output, with Campbell's literate, deceptively precious lyrics stepping up substantially; a compelling combination of twee sentimentality, isolationism, and sexual frustration. Ordinary, frank, and clever, Underachievers only falters slightly, when, in true Belle & Sebastian form, songwriting duties are stripped from Campbell's careful hands.
So let's do the math, shall we? A vast cast of characters revolving around a particular songwriter's astute, wry, Scottish delivery? Check. A clear penchant for jangly '60s pop from both sides of the Atlantic? Check. Literate lyrics with an ambiguously twee sentimentality that willfully obscure a murkier character lying beneath? Check. A song set that could benefit from a little less democracy with the microphone? Double check. Which is to say, not altogether unlike that other Scottish band.
So we're back where we started--Camera Obscura sound a lot like Belle & Sebastian--or at least like younger siblings. Which, despite connotations of such, is not at all a damnation. Nor is it meant to suggest that Camera Obscura are an entirely derivative entity--though such an argument could probably be made with a great deal of success--as I believe them to be something significantly more substantial than that. It is, instead, meant as something of a compliment, however backhanded. There are plenty of bands that comfortably rip off Belle & Sebastian's more definable qualities--their unnecessary girth, orchestral flairs, and precious delivery--but none do so with a care and subtlety that actually approaches their craft. It's only on the path of their own unique vision that Camera Obscura stumble upon the same magic that once made Belle & Sebastian so great.
The difference, of course, is that Belle & Sebastian (god bless them) went and blew it. Which is all the more reason, methinks, to celebrate a band of their brethren still in their active prime--lest we forget why they were great in the first place.