January can be a brutal month. The uncompromising cold chills your soul, the barren ground icily taunts as you perilously make your way about, and the skies, even on the best day, are dismal overhead. Those who haven't coupled off for the harsh winter are given double heaps of melancholy, with the impending doom of Valentine's Day. This is around the time that those who don't believe in tall tales start believing: If the groundhog doesn't see his shadow the premature thaw will begin and with the rebirth of spring brings new hopes, not yet already dashed.
I'd like to believe that the members of Camera Obscura understand these sentiments. A terse reading of the lyrics in the American release of their new album Underachievers Please Try Harder only implicates them as similar creatures of woe and lament. Misery loves company, especially when masked behind a pastoral pop song.
While it can be said that these Scottish musicians come from the same Glasgow school of sound Belle & Sebastian's Stuart Murdoch is credited with creating, Camera Obscura have been around nearly as long as their more famous counterparts. Undeniably, residing in such close proximity there are similarities to Murdoch's clan. Murdoch himself took all the pictures on the Underachievers Please Try Harder album, and during the early years, Belle & Sebastian's Richard Colburn contributed his drumming technique to a Camera Obscura single.
But it's the details, detected upon closer inspection, that differentiate Camera Obscura as a unique entity, and not a cheap knock-off from the same Scottish locale. As opposed to the twice removed, third-person narrative readily relied upon by their counterparts, Camera Obscura tends to take an autobiographical narration approach to storytelling within a song. And amid the self-restraint and precision of a well-sharpened knife, there's emotion bubbling under the surface, like many a repressed, sexually frustrated twenty-something indie-pop aficionado. The delicate balance allows the songs to shimmer with gossamer fragility. This is all achieved with the unpretentious glow of the rawest emotions, accompanied by heart-meltingly pretty melodies, alternating male-female vocal interactions, jangly guitars, and the slight punctuation of horn and string arrangements.
These Scots won't make spring come quicker, but at least you'll have some similarly minded company to commiserate with in the interim.