Camera Obscura
Desire Lines


2.9
good

Review

by Rudy K. STAFF
June 6th, 2013 | 27 replies


Release Date: 06/03/2013 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Mom-rock.

It’s hard to find something bad to say about Camera Obscura. The worst I can think of is that they are perhaps doomed to live in the critical shadow of their countrymen Belle & Sebastian in the world of “twee-as-fuck” indie pop, but even that is a recital that has long grown tired and dusty. 2009’s My Maudlin Career stood proudly on its own: those jangly harmonies, that sweeping wall-of-sound production, and a very elegant pop style that was far richer than most of its contemporaries. Camera Obscura’s trump card has always been Tracyanne Campbell’s voice, at times hopelessly romantic, at others despondent and despairing. No one can drag out a syllable as heartrendingly awkward and ambiguously as Campbell; the tension between Campbell, always the girl left without a dance when the music starts, and the band’s prismatic instrumentation is what made fleeting love on “French Navy” so memorable and the red-eyed hymnal of “Forest and Sands” so affecting. Camera Obscura have always been set in their ways, so Desire Lines, despite coming out after four years of turmoil and personal troubles within the band itself, really sounds about as much as you’d expect it to. Whether it was “sickness, sadness, life etc.,” as a press release notes, or simply the natural growth of a band that has never really bothered to rock the boat too much, Desire Lines remains firmly entrenched in the band’s well-worn sonic aesthetic. It’s a comforting familiarity that breeds not so much contempt as it does a sort of ambivalence.

As with all Camera Obscura records, Desire Lines is a meticulously crafted, steady collection of indie pop, the kind of layered production that leads you to appreciate it more upon subsequent listens. The distant horns of “I Missed Your Party” or the delicate string work on “Cri Du Coeur” unfold gradually, the gorgeous harmonies even more so – when things move as languidly as they do on Desire Lines, it’s the subtleties that eventually transform the record. Where prior records had peaks and valleys, the occasional fever pitch and the kind of acidic, prickly sadness that Campbell does so well, Desire Lines opens with a softly swelling string piece and seldom deviates from a polite midtempo pace for the rest of the trip. It’s an emotional flatline that seems to tease with a spark here or there – the playful ‘60s dance of “Troublemaker,” or the cheeky wink that drives the jittery guitar in “Do It Again” – but more often than not is perfectly content to float on, lackadaisical and unhurried. This isn’t a problem on an individual level, where the serenity of some of the songs make them master classes in restraint, the value of a well-plucked string tremolo or the simple power of a flawless harmony. Take “Cri Du Coeur,” a vintage Campbell performance, tearful strain and all, married to a lushly orchestrated surge of strings and that essential fingerpicked motif. It’s over the course of Desire Lines that things start to drag, where the beauty becomes commonplace and Campbell’s self-flagellating vocals become predictable.

Campbell remains eminently captivating, as easy to listen to lust for an irresponsible night in the sheets as she is pining for a night alone with herself, listing all the things she’d rather be doing than dealing with men. Hers is a singular voice, one that takes the empty weight of all those instruments, the hollow melodrama and vast chambers of their production and gives it some emotional heft and a naked empathy that is impossible to ignore – and who would want to? Yet even Campbell can’t save Desire Lines from coming off as creatively stagnant, just as pretty as ever but overwhelmingly pedestrian. I miss the temporary rush of “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken,” the sort of love and music that burns quick and hot, or the irresistible self-loathing of “The Sweetest Thing,” that inevitability crashing down on everything. Campbell may be on board, as she is on “Break It To You Gently” or the woozy “New Year’s Resolution,” but it’s hard to feel a storm in such well-insulated surroundings. You wish Camera Obscura would take some of that carefully constructed nuance and lend a little chaotic balance to things, but this is all pleasant and gracious, smooth and ultimately tasteless. Perish the thought of rocking the boat – Desire Lines is far too cordial for anything of the sort.



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user ratings (32)
Chart.
3
good
other reviews of this album
teddycutler1 (3.5)
Camera Obscura emerge from their three year hiatus with a more mature, more mournful sound that befi...

Ali CONTRIBUTOR (3.5)
A patchy return, but one which hits more often than it misses....


Comments:Add a Comment 
klap
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2013


10498 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

"Fifth In Line To The Throne" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G50ak0JGMEw

Digging: Caribou - Our Love

BallsToTheWall
June 6th 2013


44634 Comments


2.9......well that's a falcon punch to the groin.

Digging: Mare Cognitum - Phobos Monolith

CK
June 6th 2013


4930 Comments


But mom rock is like Joshua Tree and Automatic For The People

Digging: Death - Human

Gyromania
June 6th 2013


15941 Comments


rudy no, say it ain't so =[

Digging: Lantlos - .neon

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2013


10498 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

i was making a play on dad-rock aka Wilco's Sky Blue Sky which this reminded me of re: boring

CK
June 6th 2013


4930 Comments


Ah okay. Sweet write-up. Still will check this out most likely since I've been on an indie binge as of late.

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2013


10498 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

def check out my maudlin career if you haven't

CK
June 6th 2013


4930 Comments


Thanks for the rec, will check it tomorrow before I listen to this

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2013


10286 Comments


Great review bud, heard about this group but never fully dove in.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2013


23909 Comments


mom-rock to me is Keane

she used to blast that shit at like 7 AM when I was in high school

Digging: RATKING - So It Goes

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2013


10498 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

my mom doesn't listen to music soooo i guess talk radio would be hers

Omaha
Staff Reviewer
June 6th 2013


10286 Comments


Yeah my mom doesn't music, she only looks at pictures of cats on her computer.

So.. Cat Power?

robin
Emeritus
June 6th 2013


4249 Comments


and it's always you and me always be together

foxblood
June 6th 2013


6797 Comments


will check, my maudlin career was really good

MisterTornado
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2013


4507 Comments


Hate on Mom-Rock all you want, I'm still bumpin' 10,000 Maniacs and Enya 2 this day!

MisterTornado
Contributing Reviewer
June 6th 2013


4507 Comments


And Dillinger Escape Plan

Butkuiss
June 7th 2013


4220 Comments


Why does sput even still have a swear filter?

klap
Staff Reviewer
June 7th 2013


10498 Comments

Album Rating: 2.9

^right??

Butkuiss
June 7th 2013


4220 Comments


I don't know what's weirder. Seeing swear words censored as "***" in a review, or seeing "fuck" in a review with that messed up italic. It feels weird to censor swearing in the realm of music journalism.

AggravatedYeti
June 8th 2013


7685 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Rudeboy your Pop Prowess saddens me here.

Really enjoying this record.



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