Camera Obscura

Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi (Merge)

Nov 24, 2004 at 4:00 am
Camera Obscura created a minor buzz this year with Underachievers Please Try Harder, an album that mixed sweetly fey pop with introverted, bookish lyrics. With Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, a reissue of the band's 2001 debut, listeners can hear the groundwork. This Scottish seven-piece treads a well-worn path of enjoyable, innocuous pop -- perfect music to listen to while you brew a kettle for tea, fold your socks or construct a diorama of your studio apartment.

With the use of boy-girl harmonies, lightly reverbed guitars and trumpet solos, you'd be forgiven for thinking of Camera Obscura as a pack of Belle & Sebastian acolytes (B&S frontman Stuart Murdoch produced "Eighties Fan," a standout track that was lauded by the late John Peel). While that's a tag that the band will have a hard time shaking off, this debut shows a band of crack musicians giving shape to songs of splendid isolation and emotional deconstruction. Tracyanne Campbell's voice is beguiling in its shyness, though unlike some of her twee contemporaries, her tone rarely wavers and there is a refreshing maturity in her voice that belies her songs' subject matter.

Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi doesn't have the stylistic breadth of Underachievers -- most of these songs lope along casually, calling to mind a more subdued version of the Sundays, if that's possible. A curveball comes at the album's end with "Arrangements of Shapes and Space," an uncharacteristic bit of Yo La Tengo-esque instrumental fuzz. It's not likely that Camera Obscura is going to become anyone's new favorite band, but instead of shooting for hyperbole, the band made a pleasant, occasionally compelling first record.