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Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura turn heartbreak and heartache into beautiful music, building out their sweet and melancholy indie pop base to encompass country rock, Northern soul, reverb-heavy '60s pop, and girl group sounds, Fronted by Tracyanne Campbell and her winning mix of lyrical precision and sneaky, strong vocals, the group started off as pals of Belle and Sebastian with 2001's Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi, then took off on their own as they delivered one indie pop gem after another, culminating with 2006's Let's Get Out of This Country and the hit single "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." After a move to 4AD and a more sophisticated sound, as evidenced on 2023's very adult-sounding Desire Lines, the band weathered the tragic death of keyboardist Carey Lander to return with 2024's Look to the East, Look to the West, an album of sadness and healing colored by pedal steel and subtle electronics. Hailing from Glasgow, Camera Obscura were formed in 1996 by lead vocalist and guitarist Tracyanne Campbell, percussionist John Henderson, and bassist Gavin Dunbar. After playing out with a handful of guest musicians, Camera Obscura expanded to a quartet with the addition of guitarist David Skirving, and in 1998, the group issued their first single, "Park & Ride" on the indie Andmoresound label. In 2000, Lee Thompson joined Camera Obscura as their full-time drummer, and Lindsay Boyd signed on as keyboard player. In 2001, Skirving left the band, and Kenny McKeeve became their new guitarist. As they became better known, they were frequently compared to Belle and Sebastian, and B&S leader Stuart Murdoch was recruited to produce their debut album, 2001's Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi. The album earned praise from John Peel, who invited the group to record a live session for broadcast on his BBC show, and the single "Eighties Fan" became a modest hit. In 2002, Lindsay Boyd parted ways with Camera Obscura and Carey Lander took her place behind the keyboards, while Nigel Baillie also joined the band, handling trumpet and percussion. The group themselves produced their second album, 2003's Underachievers Please Try Harder, and further established their melancholy, unassuming sound. Its release (on the Elefant and Merge labels) was followed by an international tour covering Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States; in the wake of the tour, John Henderson left the group. In 2004, Camera Obscura recorded another session with John Peel, one that saw the band debuting special new material, as Peel had invited them to set several poems by Robert Burns to music. They recorded one of them, "I Love My Jean" later for release as a single in 2005. For the recording of their third album, Let's Get Out of This Country, the band traveled to Sweden for two weeks to record with Concretes' producer Jari Haapalainen. The results were a batch of reverb-drenched songs that took influence from Motown, vintage country, and heartbreak. It was released in June 2006, and features one of the band's most popular tunes, an answer song to Lloyd Cole's "Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken" titled "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken." It was featured in the film P.S. I Love You, the TV series Friday Night Light, and did a great deal to boost the band's profile. In 2009, Camera Obscura were signed by the celebrated U.K. label 4AD, and released My Maudlin Career, in April of that year. The success of the single "French Navy" helped push the album into the Top 50 of the U.K. album charts, and the Top 100 in America. (The song also became the theme of the U.K. cooking show Come Dine with Me). The year saw another lineup change for Camera Obscura as Nigel Baillie left the band to spend more time with his family. In 2013, the band released their second album for 4AD, Desire Lines, which was produced by Tucker Martine. The album, their most musically refined yet, achieved commercial success similar to that of My Maudlin Career, but it also preceded the end of an era for the group. In 2015, Camera Obscura canceled a tour of the United States when Carey Lander was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Lander's bandmates rallied around her, helping support an online campaign to raise both funds for treatment and awareness of the disease, but on October 11, 2015, cancer claimed Lander's life. The band went on hiatus afterward, with Campbell recording an album with Danny Coughlan and releasing it in May of 2018 under the name Tracyanne & Danny. Later that year, Camera Obscura reunited to play the Belle and Sebastian-sponsored Boaty Weekender with Donna Maciocia on keyboards and backing vocals. They decided to record another album, and after being derailed by COVID-19, began writing, with Maciocia (who was now a full member of the band) helping out. They brought back Haapalainen to produce and stripped away much of the reverb of previous albums while adding some subtle electronics and pedal steel guitar on the way to delivering a set of country rock-influenced songs dealing with the evergreen topics of love and loss. Look to the East, Look to the West was issued by Merge in May of 2024.
© Mark Deming & Tim Sendra /TiVo


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