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Altrok Showcase w/ Sean Carolan

CD of The Week

Week of 5/06/24

    Camera Obscura - Look to the East, Look to the West (Merge)

    Camera Obscura are back after 11 years with their new album, Look to the East, Look to the West, bringing a set of songs still drenched in twee pop sunshine, but dialing back on the dance party to focus on slower elements of 50’s female vocalists with a little country twang. “Only a Dream” for example, is a slow dance that Connie Francis might have sung on The Ed Sullivan Show: delicate, sincere, and features a dreamy backing chorus of “only-only-only,” familiar to the genre. “Sleepwalking” feels like a stripped-down demo with piano and Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals gliding along with the wistfully rolling melody in reflection of coke, ketamine, parties, and falling into one’s personal pitfalls. And the single “Big Love” has a more modern vibe, akin to Waxahatchee, but employs pedal steel guitar for a classical country sound.

    Their hiatus might have been permanent, for back in 2015, founding member, keyboardist, and Campbell’s co-writer Carey Lander passed away from a rare form of bone cancer. “Sugar Almond” is a touching, grief-stricken recollection of Campbell’s relationship with Lander, singing gut-wrenching truths such as, “I liked who we were together / I’m not sure who I’ll be apart” and “I will love you forever and ever / you didn’t take much / you took a piece of my heart.” But fellow Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian convinced the band to join them on their Boaty Weekender cruise in 2019, plus a couple of other local dates in Glasgow. At that point, the touring keyboardist Donna Maciocia had huge shoes to fill. But she sparked a solid working relationship with the band and became a full-time member for …Look to the West.  “We’re Going to Make it in a Man’s World,” a lofty and airy single about women in the music business, was co-written in 2021 by the new team for a film (Icarus (after Amelia)) directed by album cover photographer Margaret Salmon and tracks like an updated rebuttal to the Mary Tyler Moore theme: “Love is All Around.”

    The album reunites Camera Obscura with producer Jari Haapalainen and they made sure to include a couple of bedroom dance numbers that recall the upbeat singles they produced together in their past, like “French Navy” or “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken.” “Pop Goes Pop” is, like the name suggests, a poppy number that sounds like Belle and Sebastian covering Elvis Costello, with bouncy ebullient energy, slide guitar, Farfisa organ, and toe-tappingly catchy chorus. It’s preceded by the light and natural flowing “Denon,” which features a bouncy Motown hook paired with a bright and clean, Jackson Five-stylized verse.

    Look to the East, Look to the West is a more mature Camera Obscura, who have gone through life-changing events over the past decade that would have forced a lesser band into retirement. They put away the orchestra strings and reverb-coated effects from their past albums and are leaving the house with a natural look that doesn’t need any touch-up. They will be landing on our Union Transfer shores for the very first date of their U.S. tour on May 29, with Los Angeles’ Photo Ops opening. Do attend.
    Review by Shepard Ritzen

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