Album Review: Camera Obscura, “My Maudlin Career” (2009)

A few months ago, I had never even heard of indie-pop band, Camera Obscura.  A friend of mine recommended them to me, figuring that I’d enjoy them like I do most indie music.  I recently picked up their fourth CD, My Maudlin Career (released this April), and decided to give it a listen.  I’m actually reviewing this on my first listen (I very rarely do so), so you’ll get my honest, first opinion of their album.

The band, which originated in Glasgow, Scotland, is fronted by female vocalist, Tracyanne Campbell, and has a fresh pop sound, while still sticking to the laid back production and honest songwriting that indie music is known for.  At only 46 minutes, the CD is short, but it’s a pleasant little breath of fresh air.

The disc opens with French Navy, a 60s-sounding, upbeat track.  Drums and tambourines make up the bouncy sound, and I can’t really listen to this song without wanting to dance.  Campbell sounds like she’s having the time of her life as she sings the memorable chorus “I wanted to control it, but love, I couldn’t hold it. I wanted to control it, but love, I couldn’t hold it”.  The track is a truly fantastic start to the album.

“I’m going on a date tonight, to try to fall out of love with you. I know, I know this is a crime, but I don’t know what else to do,” sings Campbell at the beginning of The Sweetest Thing.  This song, about a long distance relationship, is not only smartly written, but again, heavily features tambourines and horns and sounds like another song straight out of 1965.  Campbell’s vocals are pretty modest- so far, she hasn’t done anything outrageous vocally, but she has a nice, pleasant tone, which I enjoy.  Her voice and the bands’ sound is exquisite together- nice, easy music to listen to.

You Told A Lie appears as the album’s first ballad, and Campbell’s vocals at the beginning of the song remind me of Feist.  Anyway, the tempo picks up slightly by the chorus, adding in a simple drum loop.  Lyrically, the song is about a complicated relationship (“Who was it that said that love conquers all?/He was a fool ’cause it doesn’t at all/Should I believe you told a lie?/On the way to my heart and on the way back”).  The song is nice enough, but not very exciting either musically or lyrically…it’s perhaps the first song on the album that doesn’t completely stand out.
Away With Murder starts off very quietly, and sets the mood for the melancholy ballad.   I’m not too big a fan of this song, either.  Campbell sings of facing problems with a significant other in a relationship (“Hey I’ve got a feeling there is something going wrong/I’ll put my thoughts in a letter;/Send it when I’m feeling strong”), but the song is too much of a drag for me to really get into it.

Luckily, the album picks back up with Swans.  The cheerful backing melody almost calls to mind Abba (maybe it’s a Swedish thing?), and the song itself continues to be just as peppy throughout.  This time, Campbell sings about having independence in life, and the melody and lyrics make me want to smile.The ballads return with James, though, I find this one a bit more interesting.  The opening lyrics immediately draw you right in (“James, he came to my place/He said he had to see my face/He hopes that we can still be friends/In his own way, he loved me ’til the end”), and Campbell’s slow, forlorn delivery will keep you hooked until the very last line of the song.

Careless Love was the first song I heard by the band prior to listening to the album all the way through (thanks to the Genius feature on iTunes).  The song begins with violins, which is the first time any strings besides guitar have been on the album.  It’s a very nice and welcomed change in sound.   The song starts off fairly slow, and I absolutely adore the lyrics (“Honey, I’ve been really struggling to think of you and I being friends/I blow hot and cold, I’m like a yo-yo/So I don’t think I should see you again”); I’ve definitely been there before.  Campbell’s voice is also really pretty in this song, making it a delight to listen to.

Things pick right back up with the title track, My Maudlin Career.  The lyrics (“You kissed me on the forehead/Now these kisses give me concussion/We were love at first sight/Now this crush, is crushing”) and tinkly-piano sound are absolutely lovely, and the song is another gem.  There’s not much to say about Forests and Sands, except it sounds a lot like the other songs on the album, even with the now expected tambourines in the background.  Other Towns and Cities has a sort of old-timey, far away sound, almost like listening to it on a record player.  That’s about the best part of the song, however…it’s a mostly a flat ballad that seems to go on for far too long.

The album comes to an end with Honey In The Sun, a loud and lively song.  It sounds like they used all the instruments from the album in this one song, and I definitely like the change of tempo.  The carefree and fun lyrics are also nice (“I wish my heart was as cold as the morning dew/But it’s as warm as saxophones/And honey in the sun for you”) and after so many heavy, quiet songs, it’s nice for the album to end on this note.

My Maudlin Career is a nice, cohesive album.  Though every song isn’t a standout on its own, the album is certainly one you can listen to all the way through without skipping anything.  Together, the songs create a lovely scene of warm summer days, or crisp fall mornings.  Camera Obscura is a lesser-known band, but it’s definitely not based on their talent…their music is absolutely wonderful.

Rating: 200px-4_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. French Navy
2. The Sweetest Thing
3. You Told A Lie
4. Away With Murder
5. Swans
6. James
7. Careless Love
8. My Maudlin Career
9. Forests And Sands
10. Other Towns And Cities
11. Honey In The Sun


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