Camera Obscura – Let’s get Out of This Country (Merge)

Over the past twenty or so years it seems that most of the music to have made it across the pond from Scotland has been enchanting, musical and incredibly infectious. From Teenage Fanclub, Cocteau Twins and Aztec Camera – going back a few years – to Belle and Sebastian, Snow Patrol and Franz Ferdinand today, what seems consistent is that they all seem to possess a knack for crafting perfect pop songs in whatever genre they are working in.

The latest by Camera Obscura, features ten shimmering songs that alternate between quiet countrified ballads and toe-tapping pop romps. Largely carried by the gorgeous vocals and smart lyrics of Tracyanne Campbell, Camera Obscura flirts, upon initial listening, with something potentially lighter than what it actually is. But the more the songs have a chance to get under your skin, the harder they are to shake. There are obvious hooky gems like “Hey, Lloyd Are You Ready to be Heartbroken” and “Let’s Get Out of This Country,” and “If Looks Could Kill” but it is the serene balance of the album that packs the deeper emotional punch.

In an era where individual songs more typically isolated and dropped into playlists, this album deserves much more. If “Let’s Get Out of This Country” is more a desert than than a main course, it is definitely more mouse than sherbert, and for those people looking for something to brighten a day or night it would be hard to find anything more comforting than this.

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Some bands have only one trick that they just tend to beat to death slowly over many albums, or quickly once they realize the shallow nature of their beast. Yo La Tengo, however, is that rare breed, who, over the course of over twenty years and ten full length masterpieces, have managed to evolve just enough to stay fresh, but not enough to shock an offend loyalists. I must confess I have been Yo La zealot since the mid-8o’s when I bought the used copy of an album called “New Wave Hot Dogs” at a record store in Cleveland. Embarrassingly enough for at least a year I thought that was the name of the band, but fortunately at the time I was one of only a few fortunate souls who would have known better.

Much of the beauty and longevity of the band has to do with the chemistry created by husband and wife Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley, and mid-career recruit James McNew. These are serious artists, not much interested in singles and radio airplay, as they are creating albums intended to be listened to from start to finish. Each album is a strange and beautiful voyage intended to lift you up out of whatever emotional place you are currently trapped.

On “I Am Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass” the band both picks up where they left off a few years back with “Summer Sun” but also refreshes that ‘quiet-loud’ rock direction that they shed before discovering their now signature atmospheric pop stylings. Bookended by two 10+ minute jams, “I Am Not Afraid” will leave you more with the feeling of the songs in between – quirky multi-instrument affairs (horns, piano, guitars) mixed with trademark harmonizing and provocative themes and lyrics. Songs like “Beanbag Chair,” “Black Flowers,” and “Mr. Tough” will keep you toe-tappingly smiling, while songs like “I Feel Like Going Home” and “Song For Mahila” will have you drifting off into some wonderfully contemplative state.

With almost every album I find myself thinking that Yo La Tengo has finally recorded their definitive masterpiece, but then a few years later another even better one emerges. I sense that this record will be among the very best of this year (or any for that matter) and one that will keep me counting the days until the next one.

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