Review: Camera Obscura — My Maudlin Career
With their previous album, Let’s Get Out of this Country, Camera Obscura finally stepped out of the shadow of Belle & Sebastian (and the inevitable comparisons that came when Stuart Murdoch produced their very first single) to come into their own. Country delivered more than just the twee charm of its predecessors and displayed an impressive ear for consistent pop song-writing. The just-released My Maudlin Career continues the band’s evolution without straying far from the style that has already become familiar.
Vocalist/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell, who used to sing with such bored affectation on earlier songs like “Eighties Fan,” and “Suspended from Class,” sounds much more impassioned these days, but maintains her same breeziness. Nowhere is this change more evident than in the album’s lead single and opening track, the jubilant “French Navy,” which finds Campbell adding trills and flourishes to her normally stripped-down delivery. Elsewhere, as in slower songs like “James” and the country-tinged twang of “Forests and Sands,” she sounds tired, but the strain lends a layer of soulfulness.
My Maudlin Career is a shimmering, well-orchestrated album; tinkling bells are scattered throughout for a touch of magic, but never intrusive or schmaltzy. Strings swell to such show-stopping levels in nearly every song that, after a while, it’s a relief to hear only a lone, mournful fiddle lingering in the background of “Other Towns and Cities.” All the trappings we’ve come to expect from Camera Obscura are present: the Sunday school pianos, horns, and classic radio guitar riffs. To be sure, some moments on the album sound familiar. The title track reminded me of a slower, less raucous version of “If Looks Could Kill” from the last album, and “Honey in the Sun” echoed “Lloyd, I’m Ready to Be Heartbroken,” but the band isn’t so much repeating itself as refining.
Some highlights: “Swans” opens with a delirious nursery-rhyme hook that threads through the song, “You Told a Lie,” navigates seamlessly between a sunny verse with a polka bass line and a hushed chorus punctuated by plucked violins. The previously-mentioned “French Navy” is pure pop heaven, easily my favorite song. But the artfulness of the album’s arrangements really get to shine in the closing track “Honey in the Sun;” the song takes off on instrumental breakdowns between verses, even after it seems that Campbell has urged the melody as far as it will go. Where Let’s Get Out of This Country ended with the ambient set piece “Razzle Dazzle Rose,” Career takes us out with a cheerful romp, a triumphant ending to an album about not wanting “to be sad again.”
Download “French Navy”
Purchase at InSound