Camera Obscura – [Album]

Tuesday, 05 May 2009

There's a moment towards the end of “Careless Love,” one of the deeper cuts on Camera Obscura's new record, My Maudlin Career, when song effortlessly transforms from a swaying example of orchestral pop as we generally understand it in 2009 to a soaring, melancholy orchestral piece that sounds like it's been yanked from underneath the credits of A Summer Place. The track just refuses to quit building: the snare hits get more incessant, and the strings get higher and louder until they leave the listener cruising at 30,000 feet over a sun-dappled grassy hillside where two young lovers are saying their final goodbyes.

My Maudlin Career, the fourth album from the Scottish five-piece, is something of a masterpiece. The music is a perfectly paced mix of an alphabetically thorough mix of instruments (guitars to xylophones), which provides the perfect bed for the cooing of singer Tracyanne Campbell, as she sings about lost loves, current and impending. It's the kind of record where you realize you haven't been actually hearing it for a song or two because it's gotten you thinking about all the love you've lost, and wondering if maybe it's not your fault. Just then, though, the band kicks things up a notch, sucks you back in, and sets you flying.

For Career, Camera Obscura continues their work with producer Swedish producer Jari Haapalainen, begun on their last record, Let's Get Out Of This Country. His influence is apparent throughout the album, and not just in its similarities to Country. This time out, the band sounds a lot more like a Swedish pop collective than a collection of mildly morose Scots with pop tendencies. In short, they're more Concretes than Belle & Sebastian. This is no small feat. Comparisons to that band, Camera Obscura's countrymen, avowed initial inspiration, collaborators, and sometimes-producers have dogged them for years. With Career, they boldly solidify their own sound.

The album's lead track, "French Navy," encapsulates this sound in many ways. Lyrically, it's about the unplannable, overwhelming inconvenience of love is. Musically, it's a perfect storm of brass, strings, and very prominent percussion: a musical whirlpool Snares, a fait guitar line, and violins swirl around the listener, until he's drowning in them. And asking for more.

Almost every track is a winner. The swinging, brassy good times of “Honey In The Sun.” The girl group heartbreak of “The Sweetest Thing.” The indie wall of sound of the title track, which casts Campbell as a kind of highlands Dusty Springfield.

My Maudlin Career has an emotional resonance makes it twice as loud as it actually is, proving you don't need to be Tommy Iome to knock the listeners over if they've gotten so drawn in by rest of the song. It packs a punch, albeit one wrapped in vintage wrapping paper. More, please.


My Maudlin Career is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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