"Underachievers Please Try Harder"


You can't accuse Camera Obscura of being coy. There are some songs on its "Underachievers Please Try Harder" that don't sound exactly like Belle & Sebastian, but the Glasgow septet is sufficiently forthright to open the album with a song that could pass for a B&S outtake: "Suspended From Class" is mid-tempo chamber pop with a wispy female vocal, an equally wispy male vocal on the chorus and a discreet trombone solo. "Oh, he's such a delicate thing," warbles singer-guitarist Tracyanne Campbell admiringly, and of course he is. This music is both for and about delicate things.

At times, Camera Obscura is a little bit more country than B&S. "Before You Cry" is rooted in Nashville rather than Glasgow, although the guitars are much twangier than the vocals. The band also channels early Leonard Cohen in "Your Picture" and delves into doo-wop with "A Sister's Social Agony," which combines '50s-style harmonies with contemporary hipster references.

Still, the group frequently acknowledges its principal influence, in part by having Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch snap the cover photos.

Which, come to think of it, is rather coy.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Monday at Iota with the Rosebuds. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Camera Obscura, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8122. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)