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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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