Release Date: Jun 4, 2013
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop
A band whose mastery of their own formula warrants almost universal praise, Camera Obscura’s latest record is no departure. Their preference for simple, well-executed pop music is one that has largely remained unchanged throughout their career; the songs themselves may have benefited from experience and maturity, but one can’t help but feel that, in essence, the Camera Obscura of today is largely the same as the one that formed in 1996. Their naïve lyricism and innocent subject matter lend themselves perfectly to both slow balladry and upbeat, sunny pop.
“This is love,” Tracyanne Campbell sings early on Desire Lines, “It’s alright.” Like most of Campbell’s lyrics, that assessment is loaded with ambiguity. She could mean “alright” in the Lou Reed-ian sense, as an understated expression of complete contentment, or she could intend the word to be read with an implied “merely.” Given Campbell’s track record, the latter reading seems more apt. No contemporary lyricist has better documented the disappointment of being let down by romance than Campbell, who over her long tenure with the Scottish indie-pop band Camera Obscura has used her nakedly sweet voice to simultaneously swoon over and cut down countless inadequate lovers.
There’s really no great intrigue behind the fact that Camera Obscura barely put a foot wrong over the course of the first thirteen years and four full-length records of their career. They figured out what they were good at, and then did it, in incredibly assured fashion. Their breakthrough, Underachievers Please Try Harder, was replete with the kind of witty lyricism and snappy melodies that the band have proven such consistently dab hands at, but it wasn’t until Let’s Get Out of This Country that those facets were paired with the genuinely lush instrumentation they deserved.
Four whole years have passed since Camera Obscura graced listeners with My Maudlin Career. After working with Grammy-nominated producer Tucker Martine, the Glaswegian quintet have readied Desire Lines, the fifth full-length in their maudlin catalog. If the title wasn’t a clue, it only takes seconds to hear that this record doesn’t stray from the ebb and flow of romance, a storyline and soundtrack that the group has mastered over the years.
Glaswegian group Camera Obscura have dialed in their approach to indie pop perfection over the course of their lengthy run, starting out as the kid brother band to Belle & Sebastian, but finding a voice all their own by the time of their 2006 high-watermark album Let's Get Out of This Country. The 2009 follow-up My Maudlin Career and now fifth album Desire Lines don't see Camera Obscura wildly altering their sound, but there's a certain development that comes from years of refining their increasingly cool and self-assured songs. Desire Lines was delayed by a two-year period of uncertainty for the band, where illness and other personal problems put things on indefinite pause for a while.
Depending on where you stand in matters of the heart, Tracyanne Campbell can either be the supportive friend that offers great advice, or the woeful victim who will talk ad nauseum about her problems. Listening to Camera Obscura albums require a selfless, loyal reciprocation – for a little over a decade, we’ve witnessed the rocky path she constantly treads, and have lost count of how many times she stumbles on her dismount and gets back on her feet. You’d think she’d taken enough hurt and become a single recluse by now, but she prevails, with a dogged determination that, yes, one day she’ll find a love that only exists in romantic comedies and manga graphic novels.
Whether it's singer Tracyanne Campbell's introverted, confessional voice or Camera Obscura's penchant for understated pop, the band have effortlessly perfected a sound that can best be described as "lovely. " But beneath the vintage pop demeanour are a group that have gradually refined and grown in confidence. Producer Tucker Martine (R.
Little has changed in Glasgow quintet Camera Obscura’s sound since its luscious 2002 debut full length, Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi. The production is bigger, the recording a touch more sophisticated but by and large, it’s all about auteur/lead singer Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet, innocent, succulent vocals. Her slightly retro, girl group pop features often edgy lyrics that belie the music’s droolingly pretty, perky and persistent melodies.
Typically, Tracyanne Campbell writes Camera Obscura's lyrics from an omniscient narrator's perspective, but even when she gets more personal, there's still a bit of a guarded tone at play. It's not the kind of adorable, "aw-shucks-stare-down-at-my-argyle-socks" self-consciousness we typically associate with twee pop; it's an exercise in examining your own relationships in a more objective, thoughtful light, always resolving in a willingness to pick up and move on. It's not a new perspective for songwriting, but one that's sorely absent from a lot of indie pop, making Camera Obscura all the more refreshing in a subgenre littered with self-obsessed navelgazers.
Camera Obscura's last two albums – 2006's Let's Get Out of This Country and 2009's My Maudlin Career – opened with effervescent pop songs that never quite made them radio stars. Desire Lines begins with a wan orchestral sigh, as though resigning itself to disappointment. Not that the Glaswegian quintet seem concerned about its success: "We might not storm the charts completely," frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell notes wryly in Every Weekday, "but we'll do our very best." It's love that's the culprit: love that makes people approaching middle-age gauche as teenagers; love that wraps up heartbreak in happiness – a contradiction Campbell has long embodied, singing acidic lyrics in a sugary voice golden with optimism.
For more than a decade, the Glaswegian indie-pop band Camera Obscura have made consistency a virtue. Their songs stick to comfortingly familiar forms, and every single one is about love. Not many bands could build a devoted indie following by plowing such a narrow, unflashy vintage row. But not many bands have a singer like Tracyanne Campbell, whose plainly beautiful voice is sluiced through a series of refined lilts, catches, and gulps that have come to trigger a nearly Pavlovian adoration in fans.
Camera ObscuraDesire Lines[4AD; 2013]By Rob Hakimian; June 18, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetThere are seemingly infinite songs that can be and will be written about love, and Scottish troup Camera Obscura have penned a decent proportion of them across their previous output, writing almost exclusively around the topic. Album number five, Desire Lines, is no different. And there’s no reason why it should be when you do it as well as Camera Obscura do it, and have a lead singer like Tracyanne Campbell who seems to be able to make every single entanglement that she sings about be both believable and about completely different people each time.
At this point it feels worthless to compare Camera Obscura to Belle and Sebastian. The two Scottish troupes have been paired together ad nauseum for the better part of the last decade, with fans and critics alike pointing out their similar brands of moody chamber-twee. In these instances, CO typically plays little brother to the more popular, more critically acclaimed B&S.
With “French Navy”, Camera Obscura came closest to their shots fired. For a band so stuck on the should’ve-beens and able to debase them with witty, dismissive comebacks, “French Navy” was startled as well as startling. Beguiled by a love story with tantalising beginnings – it sounds like it happened at an improv class, Tracyanne Campbell setting up weeks in dusty libraries and sailor mates – it became the first time I heard Camera Obscura telling their story as seriously as they did romantically.
Through four albums, Camera Obscura has strived to capture the sound of Eisenhower's postwar America, with an aesthetic loosely defined by earnest, reverb-soaked guitars, sweetly sung harmonies, and perhaps most important of all, that tragic catch in singer Traceyanne Campbell's voice, dripping with the kind of despondent romanticism that permeated every awkward, anxiety-ridden high school dance you've ever attended. But beneath their '50s-gazing melodies and all the self-deprecating quirks that consummate their cute-sad shtick, Camera Obscura is a band fueled primarily by hooks. Whether they're attempting something darkly humorous (“I Need All the Friends I Can Get”) or something more candy-coated (“French Navy”), the group has always been at their best when things remain catchy.
A long and eventful four years have passed since Camera Obscura’s last full-length effort, My Maudlin Career. It was an enchanting album; the easy culmination of the band’s growing experience and, led by the frankly fantastic French Navy, their new high watermark in the popularity stakes. Yet it appears that the winds of change have blown since the heady days of 2009.
Review Summary: Mom-rock.It’s hard to find something bad to say about Camera Obscura. The worst I can think of is that they are perhaps doomed to live in the critical shadow of their countrymen Belle & Sebastian in the world of “twee-as-fuck” indie pop, but even that is a recital that has long grown tired and dusty. 2009’s My Maudlin Career stood proudly on its own: those jangly harmonies, that sweeping wall-of-sound production, and a very elegant pop style that was far richer than most of its contemporaries.
byDREW MALMUTH All unhappy musicians are unhappy in their own way. Whether or not it stems from similar afflictions, the music that comes out of sad people is unique to their own particular quirkiness. This is why melancholic music will always flourish. Musically inclined people are bound to feel like shit at one point or another, and that feeling of ineptitude, when digested through the singular personality of that musician, is probably something worth listening to.
Desire Lines from Glasgow’s Camera Obscura is a wonderfully breezy, sun-dappled collection. I’d go far to say pop confection, only the bouncy, pretty, litheness of it is built on a solid foundation. It’s lyrically strong and musically tight — even as it drifts and frolics as easily as kite. A kite is a wide sky with the just vaguest notion of a dark cloud looming in the distance.
Three years after their polished and assured fourth effort, ‘My Maudlin Career’ troubled the Top 40, Camera Obscura return with their own brand of literate, swooning pop music in the shape of new long-player ‘Desire Lines’. In a gestation process fraught with difficulties – in a recent interview Campbell would only divulge ‘personal problems’ – they moved from their previous recording base and studio of choice in Sweden to America, with Campbell intoning the ensuing record has seen special care given to mixing and removing any unnecessary elements. The effects of this diligence become apparent straight away, even from the instrumental opener ‘Intro’, with its cinematic, sumptuous strings.
Camera Obscura Desire Lines (4AD) Guest spots from Neko Case and Jim James fold into Desire Lines, but amid its dreamlike immensity you might not notice. The pop-loving Glaswegians cultivate smart, sugar-coated camp in the vein of countrymen Belle & Sebastian, but their fifth LP resists harvesting low-hanging fruit, including the big-name heavyweights honeying the vocals. And that restraint in a way deflates Camera Obscura's elation.