Plumbiferous Media

My Maudlin Career – Camera Obscura

Apr 23rd 2009
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My Maudlin Career - Camera ObscuraCamera Obscura
My Maudlin Career
Score: 80

Camera Obscura, formed in 1996, is one of the formidable body of indie bands from Glasgow distinguished by a soft, emotive tone of music (though many of these bands have rejected the term, think twee). After three well-received albums, including the excellent Underachievers Please Try Harder (2004), Camera Obscura has just released their newest LP, My Maudlin Career, which not only reserves the delicate, well-loved aspects of Camera Obscura’s sound but develops it into an even better fourth album.

Tracyanne Campbell’s voice has always been especially unique, and has played a large part in helping to define Camera Obscura’s music. On My Maudlin Career, Campbell is as strong as we’d expect. Beginning with the excellent single, “French Navy,” Campbell’s voice rings out – forceful, plaintive, and dynamic – and utterly individual. The instrumentals of My Maudlin Career accompany her soft, nuanced vocals expertly, producing a well-composed, buoyant and yet ethereal feeling to the album. Though it is true that Campbell’s voice rarely shifts from its small comfort range, and the vocals are occasionally accompanied by odd effects, they remain incredibly pleasing.

As usual, Camera Obscura has written a set of excellent lyrics for My Maudlin Career that are fundamentally simple and yet both heartfelt and emotionally complex. As Campbell sings of the “French Navy” on that track, she illustrates a colorful and yet melancholy love story. My Maudlin Career is filled with such lyrical constructions, from the numb “February night” of “Away with Murder” to the scornful “You say I’m too kind and sentimental/Like you could count affection” from the vibrant, turbulent title track. Campbell expresses the emotions intertwined within each track melodically, as she sings “I pretend that my heart and my head are well,” wishing that “the blood pumping through my veins could freeze.” With these well-woven lines, the stories behind My Maudlin Career become all that much more vivid.

Camera Obscura can easily be compared to Arcade Fire in their large instrumentation. The six band members play a large variety of instruments, and the usual orchestration has at least one guitar, a piano or organ, bass, drums, and the occasional string section, brass, or harmonica. Needless to say, especially with the sound Camera Obscura aims for, the band easily creates full washes. While these washes are often interestingly distinguishable for their use of multiple, distinct, and interesting lines, they occasionally, especially towards the earlier part of the album, fall back into the repetitive, boring sound to which washes are prone if the band is not careful.

What My Maudlin Career most often shows off, though, is the band’s great ability to push the listener just to the brink of frustration before giving him or her exactly what was needed. The first three tracks all follow in the eclectic indie version of a Tex-Mex bordering on carnival genre, but “Away with Murder” snaps the band into a different type of sound just in time. Just when one gets sick of the refreshing sound that was provided in “Swans,” “James” lightens up on the drums and saves the album. And of course, “Honey in the Sun” provides a welcome, exciting conclusion to the album after the quiet “Other Towns and Cities,” which in turn rescued the listener from the doldrums of “Forest and Sands” with its unprecedented (for My Maudlin Career) guitar line.

My Maudlin Career is not a perfect album. It includes a few mediocre tracks, some long, some repetitive, and some the same as the previous track. But when Camera Obscura hit the mark, they hit it full force, and the album barely had time to suffer through the weaker tracks as a result. Between the usually interesting instrumentals, the unique vocals, and the well written lyrics, Camera Obscura managed to turn out quite a well-made album.

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