My Maudlin Career, 180G Black Vinyl LP, Glaswegian Indie-Pop blending 1950s beach music, country, and bubbly orch-pop!
On the title track of Camera Obscura's fourth album, My Maudlin Career, Tracyanne Campbell sings, "This maudlin career has come to an end/ I don't want to be sad again." As usual, she's being sincerely ironic. Camera Obscura fans will be pleased to know that she's still turning out maudlin torch songs with apparent ease. It is a record of the most immoderate sentiment: Thirty seconds in, on "French Navy", you've already got a dusty library, a French sailor, and the moon on the silvery lake. By the second track, "The Sweetest Thing", Campbell's ready to trade her mother for a compliment from a certain someone. She might not want to be sad again, but judging from the kind of tangled romantic assignations she confesses to here? Album number five already lurks in the inevitable fallout.
The sonic similarities and early connections between Camera Obscura and fellow Glaswegians Belle and Sebastian have already been flogged to death; what's less often mentioned is that they're also growing up parallel. Both began as lo-fi indie-pop bands with heads full of classic pop radio. Over time, both shifted their emphasis toward crafting classic-sounding songs in various Western pop idioms while retaining traces of their button-badge origins. More timid incarnations of Camera Obscura dissolved their genre exercises into a sort of equalizing cuddliness; on My Maudlin Career, the band's confidence draws them into sharper relief. You'll hear traces of 1950s beach music on "The Sweetest Thing", country on "Forest and Sands", and bubbly orch-pop all over the place. The album feels as if it could have been released any time in the last 50-odd years, but the inspired arrangements-- and, of course, Campbell's indelible voice-- make it sound fresh, too.
"Refinement" is the watchword on My Maudlin Career, and there are two particular developments of note. One is the string arrangements, which are kinda out of control. They buffet the verses relentlessly, taking over entirely whenever the jubilation reaches such a feverish pitch that words can no longer express it-- check out the deliriously up-swirling end of "Careless Love". It's as if George Gershwin stormed the studio. A weaker band might have floundered under the weight, which brings us to the second notable development: Campbell's singing retains its vulnerable-but-tough naiveté, but it sounds more assertive and agile, with increased swing and soul, than ever before. There are still melodies of heart-wrenching simplicity that stick in your head to an almost irritating degree (beware of the dangerously catchy "James"), balanced by songs with longer, more complex and limber melodic phrases. It's a singing style one wants to call "mature." -Pitchfork