I first heard Camera Obscura on an indiepop compilation, from which I made the often-drawn comparison with that other Glasgow-based band, Belle & Sebastian. At their indiepoppiest, both bands really did sound like his-and-hers counterparts, both keeping their tunes small, soft, and contained without losing the catchy sweet melodies that define the genre. From those beginnings, Camera Obscura has stretched outside their chamber pop roots, adding sweeping folk-rock and country twang to their repertoire in subsequent albums.
Their latest album, My Maudlin Career, which is out on April 20 on 4AD, may kick off with ‘French Navy’, a song as danceable as anything Camera Obscura has produced in the past, but by the middle of the record we find singer/songwriter Tracyanne Campbell at her most melancholy. From the spare folk of ‘James’ to the country ballad ‘Forest and Sands’, Campbell appears to be in no short supply of ways to lament lost loves. At first, this put me off of My Maudlin Career, since I’ve always been a bigger fan of the poppier side of the band and found the transition between the few upbeat songs and more mournful tracks jarring. After a few listens, I grew to appreciate Campbell’s sincerely wistful ballads, if only for the fact that they show yet another facet to the band’s ability to skip genres while maintaining a unified sound, one that distinguishes Camera Obscura from Belle & Sebastian.
I would probably still play Let’s Get Out of This Country or another earlier Camera Obscura album if I was in the mood for an indiepop fix, but I can appreciate listening to their latest outing in a more, well, maudlin moment.
Bonus round: Is she saying “like a river in Toronto” in the chorus of ‘Forest and Sands’? If so, there’s a Canadian connection!