For much of its career, Camera Obscura has lived in the shadow of Belle & Sebastian. True, both bands are large Scottish ensembles based in Glasgow. Both feature girl singers who croon mournfully like '60s chanteuses Sandie Shaw and Françoise Hardy. Both use strings and acoustic instruments much in the way of '60s folk-rock acts while copping to a love for '80s indie acts like Felt and the Smiths. And, certainly, both have a penchant for the lyrically lovesick and twee. (Heck, the two groups' leaders are even rumored to have dated for a time.) And yet, with the release of Camera Obscura's fourth long-player, My Maudlin Career, the outfit finally outstrips its crosstown rival. Camera features only one songwriter, so Career is far more cohesive than recent Belle & Sebastian releases, ably focusing on singer Tracyanne Campbell's battered heart. And while B&S has attempted to move beyond its early folk-rock sound, Camera Obscura has enthusiastically embraced it. Thus, the songs on Career have as many strings as a puppeteer's factory, with the lushness of the music only making Campbell's swooning melancholy that much more addictive. Ripe, horn-driven tracks like "Honey in the Sun" feel both more vibrant and more composed than anything on Dear Catastrophe Waitress did. Plus, Campbell rhymes "deer" with "dear," which is hard to argue with.
Agent Ribbons opens.
Mon., June 8, 9 p.m., 2009