I was watching You’ve Got Mail last night, and there is one word that appears sporadically throughout the entire movie: Enchanting. Adjective. Powerfully pleasing, appealing, or delightful. To have a magical influence. Charming; captivating.
Much like Meg Ryan’s character, Isobel Campbell is the epitome of enchanting. At just 19, she became one of the founding members of Scottish chamber pop band Belle & Sebastian. Many even joke that she was the "Belle". During her time playing on the illustrious band’s first few albums, she contributed her tender backing vocals and classical cello skills to their songs. Campbell is most recognized for her lead performance on “Is It Wicked Not To Care” from the 1998 masterpiece Boy With The Arab Strap.
Her solo music fluctuates between sparse arrangements and lush orchestration, paired with percipient lyrics. While Pitchfork writer Richard Juzwiak belittled her as “just a girl with a guitar” who has “recycled ideas”, Campbell’s 2000 album A Swansong For You deemed her an insightful songwriter in her own right.
This album is ideal for moments of reflection and adventure. From the warm welcome of “Let the Good Times Begin” to the cinematic mystery of “Partner in Crime”, the fog in front of her talent dissipates. The elegant delicacy of her stylings are showcased in the bossanova song “Pretty Things”, but she makes it clear that she is more than just a girl with a pretty voice. Francophile pop proves to be a major influence in the striking single “Falling From Grace” and the new wave dance track “Sisterwoman”, reflecting Jane Birkin and Francoise Hardy’s hand in her music. But somehow, she manages to take her various sources of inspiration and construct an alluring atmosphere from our chamber pop dreams.
I imagine her now living a quiet life like the softer songs she’s written, reflecting on those moments of adventure fondly. Her music serves as material evidence of her enchanting nature, reliably present for if she ever forgets. Forgetting would be difficult for the rest of us. Isobel Campbell is a piece of magic that shines from the shadows.
By Katryn Macko