Kilted Lovers Bring Scotch (pop) to Pearl Street

By Garth Brody


Glasgow-based indie pop group Camera Obscura will bring their melodic melancholy to the Pearl Street Ballroom tonight. Formed back in 1996  by unassuming frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura did not record an album until 2001. The band has been steadily building buzz ever since their debut, “Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi,” hit the scene.

Featuring the same folk influence, sad-eyed spaciness and big orchestration of their previous works, Camera Obscura’s fourth album, “My Maudlin Career,” links the band even more to the sound of 60s girl groups. Heart-wrenching string melodies abound on the album, which was released in April, with modern indie flourishes like the now-commonplace glockenspiel. Campbell’s sweet, subtly accented vocals tell stories of either unrequited or disappointing love, often with a sardonic edge that makes all the sweetness taste a little saccharin.

But the saccharin is genuine. It tastes like a frustration with her own role in the musical melodrama she’s composed. The unabashedly romantic harmonies contrast splendidly with her often bitter lyrics. The music video for “Hey Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” the opening track from their third album, “Let’s Get Out of this Country,” switched between static shots of Campbell’s slooping pout and a pair of dancers moving dynamically through a colorful shopping wonderland. The music correspondingly yearns as a soap opera organ interjects sorrowful interludes.

Camera Obscura somehow manages to present all of this weepy sweetness while remaining consistently fun to listen to. The arrangements are all tight, simple and effective, and the production is big and heavy on the reverb. The music may be a comment on the blandness of pop music love, but it is still the visceral and emotional experience it ought to be. The cloying sense of insincerity is betrayed by a beautifully lush sound, structured cleverly and concisely.

And, perhaps since Campbell’s compositions are so perfectly simple in structure, Camera Obscura’s live performances tend not to deviate too far from the studio recordings. So there will be no noisy freak-outs or self-indulgent feedback to be found here – nothing but the good stuff.

Opening for Camera Obscura will be Papercuts (all the way from San Francisco), who have an indie pop sensibility similar to the headliners. They are touring in support of their new album, “You Can Have What You Want, ” which has been drawing warm reviews and comparisons to Grizzly Bear and Beach House.

In an interview on ABC earlier this year, Tracyanne Campbell admitted to struggling with massive stage fright – so if you do go see the show tonight, try to be as nice as the music. Tickets are $18 at the door, which opens at 8:30 p.m.

Garth Brody can be reached at [email protected].