It's hard to imagine seven people who look less likely to be in a rock band -- even an indie rock band -- than the members of Camera Obscura.
Appearing overwhelmingly ordinary, however, is just one of the group's sneaky charms. At a crowded Iota on Monday night, it displayed many others, most noticeably a bent for winsome, clear-eyed pop that is as sharp and wry as it is occasionally heartbreaking.
There are no flashes of brilliance with the Scottish group, or anything particularly complicated about its sound: A muted trumpet solo here, a shimmering tambourine flourish there, lightly strummed guitars. Drummer Lee Thomson uses brushes as often as he uses sticks. And yet, as simple as the songs are, they float on a sort of morphine loveliness as calming as a piping-hot cup of Sleepytime tea.
The band's atmospheric creations -- and its Glasgow address -- have earned it comparisons to fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian.
The bands do share a penchant for twee pop, but Camera Obscura also infuses bits of '60s girl-group soul and a touch of twangy country to create its own pedigree.
Tracyanne Campbell is both lead singer and chief deliverer of droll asides.
When she introduced "Sun on His Back," a loud "whoo-hoo!" came from the back of the crowd. "Well, somebody wants it" was her deadpan response. Deadpan might also describe the title of the band's new album, "Underachievers Please Try Harder," and a couple Morrisey-esque songs they played, "Let Me Go Home" and "I Don't Want to See You."
Perhaps the band's greatest achievement is making the mundane sound absorbing.
The line "I should be suspended from class / I don't know my notebook from my [bleep]" isn't exactly great poetry, but Campbell and John Henderson's harmonies on the chorus took it into hopelessly forlorn and achingly beautiful territory.
-- Joe Heim
At Birchmere Bandstand
A sticker affixed to U.S. copies of Cafe Tacuba's magnificent 2003 album "Cuatro Caminos" erroneously suggested it as a Rock en Espanol equivalent of Radiohead's "Kid A."
That's a slight to the Mexico City quartet, however, since it is far more versatile and accomplished than Thom Yorke's outfit, a fact they reaffirmed with a glorious rush at the Birchmere Bandstand on Monday night as a raucous crowd bounced and howled along with a superb 90-minute set.
The short and obvious list of styles Tacuba essayed Monday included rock, folk, ska, electronica and punk placed alongside myriad traditional Spanish-language forms. While some listeners (and critics) have often been confused by such impassioned genre-blending, it has elevated the band's status among Hispanic fans.
The throng that jammed the open area in front of the stage cut loose just like kids at a Fugazi show. And with good reason: Tacuba tunes like "Eo" drove forward with nearly irresistible locomotion.
Maniacal singer Ruben Albarran, sporting a typically goofy pink suit and semi-mohawk, ring-led the proceedings, which accented the group's acoustic styles, including a marvelous interlude of traditional material featuring fiddler and guitarist Alejandro Flores.
Tacuba mostly eschewed its electronic pop proclivities -- though it did include the burbling "Dejate Caer," with its ingenious boy-band dance-routine sendup -- in favor of a folk-rock sound.
With keyboard and guitars, Emmanuel Del Real and Joselo Rangel merged the bittersweet melody of "Eres" into something that could have been included on "Rubber Soul," which is just one of the glittering reference points in Cafe Tacuba's unique solar system.
-- Patrick Foster