University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

Camera Obscura showcase their maudlin career

The Badger

ByThe Badger

Nov 8, 2009

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I’m torn. On one hand, I’m wondering whether I’m supposed to report that my experience of Camera Obscura was a disappointment; on first impressions, Tracyanne Campbell certainly doesn’t shy away from her dour reputation, and as I walked away from the Komedia last Friday afternoon, I couldn’t help but give in to the sinking feeling that I had somehow offended – or even worse, bored – the frontwoman of a band I happen to be very fond of.

Camera Obscuras Tracyanne Campbell and Carey Lander (photo: Ren Rox)
Camera Obscura's Tracyanne Campbell and Carey Lander (photo: Ren Rox)

On the other hand, I’m all the more inclined to confess that I like the Glaswegian five-piece more than ever; Tracyanne was, first and foremost, refreshing and true; her responses were less brutal, more candid; and all the while, her thoughts were propped up by the soft-spoken sweetness of bandmate Carey Lander. As was proved to me later that evening, they’re also pretty impressive live.


Still, as tempted as I was to interrogate Tracyanne about the Glaswegian music scene, I resisted (the thirty-four year-old notoriously despises being posed such questions); and when I inform her of this and she mumbles a deadpan “thank you” and rolls her eyes, I breathe a silent sigh of relief. I wasn’t sure I could cope with the backlash, and I was probably right.

But the hardened facts remain: Camera Obscura, founded by Tracyanne herself in 1996, hail from Glasgow. For that reason alone, the comparions are plentiful; the twee-pop they’ve perfected over the years is likened, repeatedly, to the likes of Belle & Sebastian, and their popularity is drawn in stark contrast with their more successful counterparts (Franz Ferdinand, anyone?) I ask if their failure to follow in their footsteps has been a deliberate move, and I’m told not. “I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that we are – and will perhaps always be – a cult band,” Traceynne says, and by the way she talks of the positives that come along with cult status, it’s clear that she’s not at all dejected by her revelation.

Even so, for a band with such a cult following, I find it remarkable that only now – following their transfer to 4AD, a label both Tracyanne and Carey have long found appealing, and the release of their fourth album – that each of the members has been able to give up the day jobs and commit to Camera Obscura full time. The album, My Maudlin Career, was recorded in Sweden, and when I probe to find out more, in her answer Tracyanne recalls the studio containing “an old desk that Abba used”. She seems genuinely excited, and I’m baffled; but it’s simply testament to her eclectic taste (she later confirms that the last track she downloaded on itunes was one from Whitney Houston’s back catalogue: “We’re really current,” she and Carey jokingly brag, breaking into temporary laughter).

Camera Obscura’s performance at the Komedia that evening showcased several of My Maudlin Career’s tracks, with French Navy garnering an notable eruption of hysteria. My personal highlight, though, had to be a near flawless rendition of Eighties Fan; the very song that attracted me to the band in the first place. How disappointing, then, that most of the crowd saw the song as a golden opportunity to dust down a discarded conversation with their neighbour or grab a pint. It didn’t matter though, because my mind was made up; I liked Camera Obscura before, and now I definitely liked them more than ever, and that was all there was to it.

Eleanor Griggs

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