Underachievers Please Try Harder
I should preface this review by saying that I’m not really disappointed with Belle & Sebastian’s latest album. Some of the best songs of their career are on there, but there’s something wedge-like about that album’s expansion in sound and production values. I guess I’ll always be more of a fan of the band’s earlier, more humble beginnings.
This is where Camera Obscura’s Underachievers Please Try Harder comes in, providing the lo-fi, intimate foil for which I have been looking. C.O. adheres to a less-is-more aesthetic, relying on the usual Glasgow rainy day sunshine formula of gentle guitar strums/finger picking, brushed drums, fluid brass arrangements and dueling piano octaves. It’s such standard issue in these post-B&S days that it wouldn’t be worth noting if every song wasn’t pitch-perfect every time. Even the more homage-centric forays, like the Leonard Cohen pilfered “Your Picture” and the Enchantment Under the Sea doo-wop on “A Sister’s Social Agony,” ring true alongside the more traditional twee numbers.
Lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s lyrics are full of the same incredible character study minutia that’s innate in all excellent Scottish bands. As with B&S’s Stuart Murdoch, Campbell is largely concerned with adolescents. On “Suspended From Class,” the narrator mulls over possible scenarios dealing with a newfound crush. The wonderful chorus is the simple and smirking “I should be suspended from class/ I don’t know my elbow from my arse.” Later, on “A Sister’s Social Agony” Campbell lays out the groundwork for some very Murdoch-ian hipster invectives with the lines, “play indie rock if that’s what you want/ quote Mike Leigh films it will turn them all on.” That, friends, is wit.
Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than this. With Underachievers…, Camera Obscura revive the Scottish indie-pop soundtrack after a couple years of listlessness. Definitely a contender for album of the year.
Merge Records: www.mergerecords.com