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Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of this Country

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Artist: Camera Obscura

Album: Let's Get Out of this Country

Label: Merge

Review date: Jun. 13, 2006

On this third-full length from Scotland's Camera Obscura, orchestral sweeps envelope wispy indie melodies, and singer Tracyanne Campbell's dulcet voice soars effortlessly over a summery guitar haze. There's a plaintive sigh in the pedal steel, a wistful longing in the shuffling rhythms. The mood is balanced at that perfect smiling-through-tears fulcrum of joy and sorrow, and production, by the Concretes' Jari Haalpaleinan encases these sweet tones in soaring vaults of sonic space.

Yet for all its surface appeal, the record has a curiously soulless quality, a lack of vulnerability and humanity that undercuts most of its songs. Opener, "Lloyd I'm Ready to be Heartbroken" (an answer to Lloyd Cole's "Are You Ready to be Heartbroken") is glossy, vibrant, untouchable, moving jauntily onward in complete disregard for its downbeat subject matter. That it, like "Dory Previn" is about falling in love with music, rather than people, perhaps explains some of the self-reference. These are songs about songs – intellectual exercises – masquerading as the simplest kinds of love songs.

Things pick up mid-stream with the title track, its raw country guitar riff almost burying the sickly sweet string swoops. The cut is loud and rough enough that Campbell has to push a little harder, ruffling the surface of her glassy smooth voice – and sounding truer for her trouble. "Country Mile" does just the opposite, pulling back the instrumentation to just jangling guitar and Campbell. Her singing is lovely here, taking on the blurry purity of classic Patsy Cline, and the minimal instrumental palette allows her to shine. Later, there's a nice nod to Motown in "If Looks Could Kill" (whose echoing drum beat could have come directly from "You Can't Hurry Love”) and a bubbly energy to "Razzle Dazzle Rose."

But mostly this album is just too sweet, too elaborate, too distanced from real emotion to matter. It's a wedding cake of excessive arrangements and mirror glossy surfaces, and it'll give you a headache, by and by.

By Jennifer Kelly

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