Album Reviews

Camera Obscura – Look To The East, Look To The West

(Merge) UK release date: 3 May 2024


Testament to a determination to make the most out of life, and to pay tribute to their late friend, this album is a tribute to the Glaswegians’ resilience

Camera Obscura - Look To The East, Look To The West Camera Obscura may have been away for 11 years, but listening to Look To The East, Look To The West feels like welcoming back an old friend. The Glaswegians’ sixth album is very much business as usual – 11 tracks of the sort of wistful indie-pop they’re experts in producing.

For those who know the band’s history though, there’s a deep undercurrent of sadness bubbling beneath these new songs. This is the first album that the band have released since founder member Carey Lander died of a rare form of cancer in 2015. Lander’s death is only explicitly addressed in one song – the devastatingly beautiful Sugar Almond – but her absence inevitably hangs over the album.

Although themes of grief and mortality are addressed through the album, it’s not maudlin. Traceyanne Campbell’s voice is as beguiling as ever, and even on another song about bereavement – the opening Liberty Print, written about Campbell’s brother who died at just 34 years old – the tone is so light and bittersweet that it never becomes depressing.

Musically, it pretty much sticks to the Camera Obscura template, but there’s a surprisingly big dose of Country & Western added as well. The Light Nights has a melancholic country twinge to it, especially with lyrics about pining for someone who usually spends the summer with you, while the gloriously cinematic Pop Goes Pop is full of Hammond Organ and pedal steel and has the perfect shuffling tempo, to dance along to while also feeling oddly melancholic. The subtle time shifts of We’re Gonna Make It In A Man’s World also surprise, while Big Love has a surprising strut and swagger to it, opening with a meaty guitar riff before telling the tale of someone failing to get over a previous lover (“It took 10 years to get her out of your head”).

It’s an album that reveals its charms slowly. At first, the mid-tempo pace may mean that not many songs stand out immediately – but soon, tracks like Denon and Baby Huey (Hard Times) – written in the wake of the Belle and Sebastian curated Boaty Weekender which was Camera Obscura’s first steps back after their hiatus – worm their way into your brain. Yet it’s impossible to listen to Look To The East, Look To The West without thinking of Lander. There are songs about missing important people, mediations on grief, and in Sugar Almond, easily the most affecting song that Camera Obscura have ever written. Simply Campbell at a piano, it reads like an open letter to Lander in the wake of her death. By the time the final note is accompanied by a sad cry of “Carey…” your heart will be well and truly broken.

Yet the overall impression that Look To The East, Look To The West gives is of a determination to make the most out of life, and to pay tribute to their late friend. It’s an album that they almost didn’t have the strength to make, but the fact that they have is a tribute to Camera Obscura’s resilience.


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More on Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura – Look To The East, Look To The West
Camera Obscura – Desire Lines
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out Of This Country