Desire Lines (LP)

Desire Lines (LP) cover
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Camera Obscura
Desire Lines (LP)

[ 4AD / LP ]

Release Date: Friday 31 May 2013

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r 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. This constant musical sweetness is balanced by Campbell's eye for the dark clouds reflected in every silvery lake, and even her most starry-eyed love songs tend to be shot through with presentiments of doom.

Camera Obscura's distinctive outlook on generic terrain becomes apparent only via intimate familiarity, like how every forest trail looks the same except the one you've walked a hundred times. A cursory pass over their catalog might make it sound like all one piece, where a baseline loveliness is spiked with absurdly disarming highlights such as "French Navy". But a dogged, calculated growth can be traced from record to record. The folksy early-Belle & Sebastian style of Biggest Bluest Hi Fi (produced by Stuart Murdoch) was perfected, and tinged with dreamy 1950s rock, on the classic Underachievers Please Try Harder. The departure of vocalist John Henderson tilted the band away from cuddly duo songs and toward more lonesome, focused showcases for Campbell's vocal performances on Let's Get Out of This Country and My Maudlin Career, which bloomed with stronger electric instrumentation and bolder shades of country, orchestral pop, beach music, and soul.

Desire Lines is the first Camera Obscura album that doesn't seem to bring much new to the table, though it's hard to complain when they have vocal melodies as infectious and thoughtful as those in the verses of standout "William's Heart". Here, Camera Obscura clear out the symphonic pomp that overgrew Maudlin to double down on classic beach music and soul underpinnings. Jeremy Kittel's strings swoop through a 30-second intro and then out of earshot for most of the album, discreetly reappearing to add translucent harmonies to the stirring ballad "Cri De Coeur" and the jubilant deep cut "I Missed Your Party", where Motown goes to the sock hop courtesy of a horn arrangement by Mark Gonzales. Neko Case and Jim James add unpresumptuous vocal harmonies to several tracks, easing into the low-key setting. The flicker and caress of Kenny McKeeve's tastefully reverbed guitar never gets much rowdier than on the rollicking trifle "Do It Again"-- sadly not a Beach Boys cover, but with some of that same nostalgic feel. There's not a bad cut here, though it's hard to imagine what a bad Camera Obscura cut would sound like at this point.

It isn't tough to write lyrics about the very beginnings and endings of relationships, when feelings are large and roles are relatively clear-cut. Campbell's gift is to capture the murkier middle regions, especially at transitions or reckonings-- times of acute vulnerability, a quality her voice seems custom-built to transmit. In the first proper song, "This Is Love (Feels Alright)", she draws a scenario that is purely flirty and romantic; the kind of helpless, unthinking giving-in that eventually leads to the hard questions posed on the stunning "Fifth in Line to the Throne": "How am I going to tell my king that I don't trust his throne anymore?" Campbell sings, caught once again, like a moth in a screen door, between staying and going. She's wonderful at lightly sketching the complex dynamics between people who won't say what they both know. "I've been cool with you," she confides on "New Year's Resolution". "The sooner you admit it, I will, too."

On the same song, Campbell makes two resolutions: to "write something of value" and to "kiss you like I mean it." The two are directly related for a songwriter who captures hot feelings in cool songs, and perhaps nod to the relatively long four-year wait for Desire Lines. More deeply satisfying than extraordinary, it seems unlikely to displace anyone's favorite Camera Obscura record, but neither is it a negligible entry in one of the smartest and most loveable discographies in contemporary indie-pop.
7.5 Pitchfork.


1 Intro
2 This Is Love (Feels Alright)
3 Troublemaker
4 William's Heart
5 New Year's Resolution
6 Do It Again
7 Cri Du Coeur

1 Every Weekday
2 Fifth In Line To The Throne
3 I Missed Your Party
4 Break It To You Gently
5 Desire Lines