Album Review: Camera Obscura – Desire Lines

By on Friday, 7th June 2013 at 12:00 pm

Camera Obscura Desire Lines coverI’m a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian. And as a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian, I feel like I have to come clean and admit that I have been cheating on them with another Glaswegian indie-pop group who also thrive on their quaintness (quaintosity?); a band more twee than Zooey Deschanel walking a clowder of cats around the garden of her thatched cottage.

It all started in 2010 when I was eagerly awaiting Stuart Murdoch and co.’s eighth album, ‘Write About Love’. Whilst impatiently trying to find something to fill the gap whilst I awaited its release, I found Camera Obscura (or rather, Spotify Radio found them for me). Their latest release at the time, ‘My Maudlin Career’, had dropped the previous year to almost universal acclaim and I decided to see what the fuss was about. I quickly found out. With gorgeous instrumentals and precious vocals, Camera Obscura are without a doubt the closest thing there is to a female counterpart to Belle and Sebastian.

Camera Obscura are a relatively unknown band with a few relatively recognisable songs in their repertoire. ‘French Navy’, arguable one of their best tracks, has been doing the rounds on British television adverts for the past couple of years, which has done great things for their exposure.

Now three years on from my first encounter with them, ‘Desire Lines’ is to be released: the band’s fifth studio album, their first of which to have been recorded in the United States. The album continues the band’s exploration of wistful themes and again brings memories of the long summers days spent doing absolutely nothing in the sun. It’s quintessentially Camera Obscura down to a tee, something that could be its own downfall for some listeners. In other words, the band have not evolved at all since their previous effort 4 years ago. Belle and Sebastian have managed to remain fresh since their first album nearly 20 years ago, something that Camera Obscura have failed to replicate with ‘Desire Lines’. With the exception of a couple of tracks, the album throws the usual catchy, summer pop tunes at you in abundance.

One of the standout tracks on the LP has to be ‘Cri de Coeur’, which my GCSE in French can tell you is roughly translated as ‘Cry of the Heart.’ Down tempo and sentimental, lead singer Tracyanne Campbell truly sings a tale from the ‘coeur’. It’s a welcome turn away from the usual upbeat pop songs that dominate Camera Obscura albums and the hypnotic percussion makes the song almost like a lullaby. (Note to self – business idea: Have Camera Obscura release an album of children’s lullabies. That would sell.)

On the subject of vocals, it would be hard to review ‘Desire Lines’ without paying great compliment to Tracyanne Campbell’s sweet pipes. They carry a sentimental and wistful tone that is without a doubt Deschanel-esque, (even if the band were around even before the world caught Zooey Fever). In fact, the entire album could have been a She and Him album without the Him. Coincidentally, the bands will be touring together for a string of dates this year in the United States.

Campbell’s crooning takes a back seat on ‘New Year’s Resolution’, instead the lead guitar riff takes the centre stage and it works perfectly. Playing almost like a duet between the guitar and vocals, it is a refreshing change to hear the rest of the band take the limelight. Although a great song, the smooth Fleetwood Mac-like track transitions awkwardly into the next song ‘Do It Again’. Any soothing feeling caused by the former tune quickly evaporates and you are once again taken to the usual happy-go-lucky pop song that we expect from the band.

Overall, the Glaswegians-that-aren’t-Belle-and-Sebastian have released a great summer album. While it’s an album that won’t break boundaries in the indie-pop game (and doesn’t even break boundaries for Campbell and co.), it is nonetheless a great listen.


Camera Obscura’s ‘Desire Lines’ is out now on 4AD.

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[…] used. Camera Obscura,’s latest video for ‘Troublemaker’, off this summer’s ‘Desire Lines’ album, seems to play homage to those days, including magic brooches, masked men, telepathy and […]

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