To Change the Shape of an Envelope
The San Diego post-punk scene of the 1990s has a checkered, incestuous, yet nonetheless fascinating history, claiming a handsome number of great-but-disbanded bands (Drive Like Jehu, latter-day Antioch Arrow, Swing Kids, and Clickitat Ikatowi, among others) as its favorite sons as much as it does thus with the overrated (the Locust, the Shortwave Channel) and the just plain bad (namely, the Crimson Curse) alike. Not necessarily a new face on the scene - most San Diego bands don't last long enough (i.e., possess enough novel ideas) to make it to CD - Camera Obscura make their legitimate technological debut with To Change the Shape of an Envelope. The city's fascination with the Birthday Party-via-Jesus Lizard histrionics and quasi-gothic electronic kitsch remains unabated here, as Camera Obscura bolster big, angular beats with generous amounts of neurotic guitar skree and cheap Casio buzz. At times, the five-piece even unfurls a sheet of shambling, shoegazing sound the early-'90s Brits would be fond of, only a touch more melancholic (best example: "Sound" - seriously). For those not enamored with the "San Diego sound" - or modern post-punk in general - To Change the Shape of an Envelope is a fairly ho-hum affair, but for those sickly, intrepid souls (this writer included) who can't seem to pry themselves away from the faux capital of fashion music, the album is nevertheless a worthy footnote.
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Nathan T. Birk