Album: Desire Lines

Artist: Camera Obscura

Label: 4AD

Release Date: June 04, 2013

Camera Obscura


 Desire Lines from Glasgow’s Camera Obscura is a wonderfully breezy, sun-dappled collection. I’d go far to say pop confection, only the bouncy, pretty, litheness of it is built on a solid foundation. It’s lyrically strong and musically tight — even as it drifts and frolics as easily as kite. A kite is a wide sky with the just vaguest notion of a dark cloud looming in the distance.

 Part of the magic is in the few atonal notes, an artistic stroke of just the wrong color at just the right time. Most of the magic is in Tracyanne Campbell’s vocal, singing “We’re gonna listen to ‘Kokomo,’” referencing The Beach Boys in “This Is Love (Feels Alright),” a song that manages to be almost more beachy than the Beach Boys.

 “Troublemaker” is pitch-perfect ’60s-era pop-rock, folky around the edges but run through some soft-focus Instagram filter to make it all pleasantly worn and airy and nostalgic in that 20/20 hindsight sort of way. Like, you know how vintage reproduction clothing looks better than actual vintage clothing? It’s because the proportions have been reworked to fit our modern aesthetic. The same is true with the vintage feel of these songs. They’re the best parts of retro fused — grafted — to the best parts of modern instrumentation and production for something that feels old in the way we wish old things felt.

 Camera Obscura has a great sense of those kinds of sighing long notes and sweeping melodies that feel emotional in a personal way. Nostalgic. Possibly for a time that never way, for a love that never happened. And yet there’s a languidness — again, much of it’s in Campbell’s voice — that allows the nostalgia to float free of drama. And Carey Lander’s ethereal background vocal further lifts the equation, making it a thing so lofty and light and translucent. “Lying to those who know you the best, keeping your secret close to your chest to die in the arms of a twenty year-old,” Campbell sings on “William’s Heart,” which recalls Everything But The Girl — but breezier.

 There’s a hint of the personal in these 12 songs. “New Year’s Resolution” (“I’ve been cool with you. The sooner you admit it, I will too,” the chorus admits) and “I Missed Your Party” (an apology for the crime in the title) dance along a thing line of sincerity and winking satire. But there’s no reason not to take Desire Lines at face value. It doesn’t play like a mockery of the tender emotion it ever so delicately stirs.

 And there are less tender moments, too: “Do It Again” picks up the pace with prancing percussion and electric guitars. Campbell’s voice is still serene, pop-pretty and sepia-tinted. But also modern. It’s a modern song, a dance song, a party song. “Every Weekday” is another upbeat track, lilting and underscored by island rhythms. Island-inspired. Bright notes, steel-pan-like, pulse beneath the melody.

 But as fun as these prance-around-the-garden-party tracks are, Camera Obscura is at its best on the drowsy, swaying, almost aching slow dances. The album’s title-track — also its last — follows that formula but adds a mournful steel guitar and the precipitous staccato of shakers. The equation adds up to not-quite-Americana, but Campbell’s almost-plaintive vocal could work well in an alt-county song.

 “Fifth In Line To The Throne” is another stand out, built on the melodrama of The Cranberries and the twilit magic of Sixpence None The Richer, but with the most gorgeous wafts of background vocals, the clear and oddly (but wondrously-placed) piano part and the nimble triple-beats of drum sticks on rims. “You treat me like a queen but like a queen I don’t know when I’ll be slain,” Campell sings. There’s a hint of anguish, but then there’s a gust of salt air, the cry of terms, the bob of waves, the bright slant of sun on water.

 DOWNLOAD: “Troublemaker,” “William’s Heart,” “Fifth In Line To The Throne”

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