Photo by Donald Milne
Seventeen years is a long time. A 17-year-old can see an R-rated movie. A 17-year-old is only a year away from being able to vote. But in pop-music terms, 17 years is practically Methuselian. The club of bands to make it that long is pretty short when you consider the context of ephemerality in rock ‘n’ roll. But luckily, Scottish indie pop band Camera Obscura is one of those bands. Like many groups, they’ve had their share of bumps in the road, but with each passing year, they seem to be getting better and better.
Camera Obscura formed in Glasgow back in 1996. The band went through the growing pains of lineup shifts before settling on the core group of singer Tracyanne Campbell, bassist Gavin Dunbar, guitarist Kenny McKeeve, drummer Lee Thompson, and percussionist John Henderson (who left the band in 2004). Keyboardist Carey Lander joined the band in 2002, replacing former keyboard player Lindsay Boyd. Early in the band’s career, they helped along by like-minded, fellow Glaswegian indie-pop band Belle & Sebastian. The band’s Stuart Murdoch helped produce Camera Obscura’s early single “Eighties Fan” off their 2001 debut LP Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi. Legendary British DJ John Peel also championed the band early on, lending Camera Obscura the gravitas of his many years of pretty impeccable taste. The group’s sophomore record Underachievers Please Try Harder came out in 2003. They left the UK for Sweden to record their next two records (2006’s excellent and aptly titled Let’s Get Out of This Country, and 2009’s My Maudlin Career) with musician and producer Jari Haapalainen.
Following some particularly hard touring for My Maudlin Career, and the news that Lander was diagnosed with cancer (she’s doing better today), Camera Obscura took an extended break. But the band had worked out some new material for their fifth record. This time they headed to Portland, Ore. with a new clutch of songs in hand to work with producer Tucker Martine (whose credits include R.E.M., Neko Case, My Morning Jacket, The Decembrists, and more). The result is Desire Lines, which hit stores this week. The new album is further proof of Camera Obscura’s pop music bona fides. Tracks range from the peppy “Do It Again,” to lovely, Mazzy Star-ish ballads like “Fifth In Line To The Throne.” Seventeen years on, and Camera Obscura are still proudly in their stride.