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Underachievers Please Try Harder

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Album Review

Camera Obscura has no doubt worn out their copy of If You're Feeling Sinister by now. Yes, their fellow Glasgow residents Belle & Sebastian are a huge influence on the group as the two share a similar musical sound, a similarly literate lyrical slant, and a similar overall approach. Look at it as a homage or a coincidence or whatever you like, but be sure to look past the surface because what you will find is enough to charm your socks off. Underachievers Please Try Harder is a stunningly unassuming, tender, sweet, melodic, and memorable record. Tracyanne Campbell's vocals are pure and honeyed, never veering into sappiness or out of tune. The band manages the rare feat of sounding full and rich without jamming every possible frequency with sound. It also throws in loads of imaginative little hooks that keep things lively. The songwriting is very nice, occasionally reaching the level of their idols' work. "A Sisters Social Agony" is angelic doo wop with lovely tinkling bells, "Teenager" is a sparse ballad with wonderfully cutting lyrics, and the quietly epic "Books Written for Girls" features Campbell's most aching vocal and sounds like the best track Everything But the Girl never recorded. Elsewhere the band takes trips into country ("Before You Cry" with co-lead vocals by John Henderson and Campbell), acoustic folk balladry ("Your Picture"), and good old indie pop (the driving "Number One Son") while never failing to achieve anything less than excellence. A necessary addition to the collection of Belle & Sebastian fans, indie pop fans, and music lovers, Underachievers Please Try Harder is an early contender for a best-of-2004 list. [The Merge release contains two tracks that the original Elefant release did not ("I Don't Want to See You" and "Footloose and Fancy Free") and a video for "Teenager."]

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Biography

Formed: 1996 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The Scottish ensemble Camera Obscura formed in 1996, when vocalist Tracyanne Campbell, percussionist John Henderson, bassist Gavin Dunbar, and guitarist David Skirving began creating lush indie pop with orchestral flourishes and romantic lyrics. They went on to release a number of singles, one of which included contributions from Belle & Sebastian's Richard Colburn, whose band served as a stylistic touchstone for the young Camera Obscura. Three years after the band's first releases, Lee Thompson...
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Underachievers Please Try Harder, Camera Obscura
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