Camera Obscura - Look to the East, Look to the West (Baby Blue & White Galaxy Vinyl)
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Look to the East, Look to the West, the new album by Camera Obscura, is a revelation. The Tracyanne Campbell-led outfit, reuniting with producer Jari Haapalainen (Let’s Get Out of This Country, My Maudlin Career), have crafted an album that simultaneously recalls why longtime fans have ferociously loved them for decades while also being their most sophisticated effort to date.
It is also the most hard-fought album of Camera Obscura’s career. Following the 2015 passing of founding keyboardist and friend Carey Lander (to whom the penultimate track “Sugar Almond” is addressed), the band went into an extended hiatus. They remained in contact, but their status was uncertain until they announced their return, having been invited to perform as part of Belle & Sebastian’s 2019 Boaty Weekender cruise festival, along with a pair of sold-out warm-up shows in Glasgow. Donna Maciocia (keys and vocals) joined founding members Kenny McKeeve (guitar and vocals), Gavin Dunbar (bass), and Lee Thomson (drums and percussion) for those shows and has since become a regular songwriting partner of Campbell’s.
Recorded in the same room where Queen wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Look to the East, Look to the West feels big, a widescreen reframing of Camera Obscura’s sound that, paradoxically, saw the band go back to basics there are no string or brass arrangements, with more emphasis placed on piano, synthesizers, Hammond organ, and drum machines, and, perhaps most strikingly, the group have dropped the veil of reverb that characterized their previous albums. The tinges of country and soul that give Camera Obscura’s baroque take on pop music its bittersweet edge have never been more apparent guitars shimmer into the distance, keys haunt, and Campbell’s voice searches for the heart, reflecting on love, loss, and the passage of time.