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Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi

Camera Obscura
Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi
(Merge Records)

In case you fell in love with last years Underachievers Please Try Harder by Camera Obscura and were hoping to hear something new from the group this year, Merge has gone and re-released their debut as sort of a glad tiding to hold you over until their next full length is finished. Creating melodic, slightly 60s-inspired orchestral pop music, the group has drawn a lot of comparisons to Belle And Sebastian, and for good reason. Their boy-girl vocals and love of things bookish and nostalgic put them in a similar field and B&S frontman Stuart Murdoch plays guitar and produced one track on this release and arranged strings for others.

The aforementioned track that Murdoch produced is "Eighties Fan," and it's also the track that vaunted the group into more of a public knowledge by getting some play on the late great John Peel show. With somewhat fragile female vocals by Tracyanne Campbell, the track keeps things fairly simple for a majority of the piece then bursts into full-on orchestral pop mode by the end with strings, piano, and more backup vocals. It sounds molded directly from the Belle And Sebastian handbook, but that's definitely not a bad thing as the group seems to pull off the sound nearly effortlessly.

"Anti-Western" is only one of several tracks where the group really shows off their songwriting chops as they blend a touch of country-inspired twang into the mix while still adding string flourishes and moving back and forth from the soft vocals of Campbell to the male counterpart John Henderson (who also sounds a bit fragile in his singing). "Let's Go Bowling" (one of two bonus tracks not on the original release) is definitely a nice addition as the group strips things back to only guitar, bass, banjo and vocals to great effect. It's nostalgic and touching and somehow the group pulls it off time and time again without making it sound sappy or forced. Considering this is the actual debut from the group, it seems they didn't have any struggles getting into their sound. Very nice.

Rating: 7.25