Camera Obscura: Look to the East, Look to the West

After the passing of keyboardist Carey Lander in 2015, Camera Obscura took a four-year break, reuniting in 2019 to play some live gigs. Soon after, singer/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell and company began preparations for a new album. Those preparations ended up having to be put on hold due to the pandemic. Look to the East, Look to the West is the indie pop band’s sixth studio album, and although over a decade has passed since their last release, their sound, style, and lyrical themes haven’t changed.

“I thought about the time hе called me up, and he asked if I loved him, I wanted to hang up,” Tracyanne sings in her familiarly sweet and sincere way during Look to the East’s opener, “Liberty Print”, a song named after a style of fabric made by a 150-year-old British company. The production is pitch perfect, blending playful synths with the group’s core instrumentation. “Big Love” have the Scots trying on a country stomp complete with slide guitars and Campbell leaning into a drawl that never completely commits to the bit. Two songs later, a similar stylistic approach is taken on “The Light Nights”, this time with a bit more success as the band replaces the slide guitar with more contemporary sounding strings.

The gorgeous piano ballad “Sleepwalking” opens the album’s second half. Slow numbers are something Camera Obscura have always done exceedingly well, and this moment is no exception. During the song’s last minute, drums and guitar join Tracyanne and the piano, and an otherwise imperceptible tension is gently released to great effect. The band takes on the sixties during “Denon”, utilizing a Motown groove while Campbell delivers lyrics that have her reminiscing, singing, “We talked until morning, patiently waiting for dawning, top forty hits on your Denon.”

Look to the East, Look to the West is wrapped with the title track. The song’s place in the sequence feels appropriate as it offers an optimistic tone, the final minute delivering a refrain that builds lovingly, conclusively, adding woodwinds and an organ before tying a neat bow on the entire package with a bright piano. Look to the East, Look to the West is a pleasurable listen that has Camera Obscura picking up right where they left off as if no time had passed. If you’ve loved what they’ve done up to now, you’re going to be happy.

Rating: 8.5/10

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