Camera Obscura do it again.
7.7 / 10
Coming into Camera Obscura’s fifth album, Desire Lines, it’s safe to say that there’s a formula in place. Tracyanne Campbell’s vocals are touching and heartfelt. The album’s lyrics contain quips and traces of humourous sarcasm. The chamber pop arrangements are lovely and pulled off eloquently whether driving toward a likeable chorus or instilling an enticing atmosphere. Camera Obscura have been doing it since 2001’s Biggest Bluest Hi Fi, then perfected on their third album, 2006’s Let’s Get Out of This Country. However, their breakthrough was arguably 2009’s My Maudlin Career that really caught US listeners’ attention on the strength of such singles as “French Navy” and “The Sweetest Thing”. So really, why would Camera Obscura do something crazy and mess with the recipe while more people have the hankering to taste it?
The ingredients for Desire Lines remain the same if only cooked by different means. The album began as demos constructed in Tracyanne Campbell’s flat just after the release of My Maudlin Career. However, it wasn’t until a couple of years later that the band finally started turning their attention more to Desire Lines’ songs. It was decided the album needed a change, so rather than record in their native Glasgow, Camera Obscura hopped on a plane set for Portland, Oregon. It was there that they worked with producer Tucker Martine and brought in extra vocal firepower from Neko Case and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James; though, it’s a struggle to actually find them in the album. Listen really hard to the backing vocals on “Troublemaker”, and you’ll make out James’ smooth falsetto.
While appearances by Case and James are a nice little bonus, the main selling point remains Camera Obscura, and especially Campbell’s charismatic singing. Desire Lines gives off many vibes, running an emotional gamut that requires Campbell to be energetic, heartbroken, and apologetic (“I Missed Your Party”). She even takes a moment to sex things up on “Do It Again”, adding some frisky playfulness behind a blush-worthy line, “You were insatiable/ I was more than capable”. The band follows her momentum, turning the song into a solid twee-pop gem. “I Missed Your Party” is just as fun, and although Campbell claims to have missed the party, Camera Obscura bring one to life, incorporating strings, saxophone, and the guitar riff from Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants To Rule The World”. It’s there, just listen.
Though Desire Lines is coming to us at the start of summer (in the US), the band twist the seasons around on “New Year’s Resolution”, giving us a frosty winter chill. “A new year’s resolution/ To write something of value”, sings Campbell even though I’m sure many would agree that she already has. Passing that season behind, “Every Wednesday” has a jaunty, summery sound. However, the band’s best songs are those without immediate seasonal connections. “Cri Du Coeur”, French for “Cry from the Heart”, could be Desire Lines‘ best moment, using synthesizers and weepy strings to drive home the song’s heartfelt climbs and plummets. Also, Campbell’s attempt at putting off an impending breakup on “Fifth In Line to the Throne” is another stunner with the awesome opening statement, “I gave you a regal name/ Because you treat me like a queen/ But like a queen/ I don’t know when I’ll be slain”. The song’s melody is one made for a high school prom night. And just like teens dealing with crazy hormones on what could be the most important night of their lives, Campbell’s adult issues differ only in the sense that desires have replaced hormones. She’s searching for an everlasting connection with another soul. To realize those desires, sometimes lines have to be drawn. Listeners will find the connection to Desire Lines much easier as Camera Obscura have delivered another solid album.
Purchase: Camera Obscura – Desire Lines