Singing Softly, Carrying a Big Stick
Scottish quintet Camera Obscura are back with their fifth album, Desire Lines, out this week on 4AD. While Camera Obscura delved into pleasant pop on their previous two albums, Desire Lines lends a more refined production style to the band’s signature blend of harsh words and mellow pop.
Produced by Tucker Martine (The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket) and recorded in the rainy environs of Portland, Oregon, Desire Lines offers a meditative reminiscence on the golden ‘50s. After starting out with the brief, orchestral “Intro,” they slide into the retro “This is Love (Feels Alright),” replete with smooth ‘50s horns, light guitar riffs and frontwoman Tracyanne Campbell’s silky alto. The song takes its measured time at a tempo that’s unhurried, but not slow, as Campbell considers whether love feels alright-good, or alright-passable and unremarkable.
This leisurely, confident tone shapes Desire Lines and shows Camera Obscura settling comfortably into their collective groove. “Troublemaker” features clean, melodic riffs, its subtlety almost hiding the fact that it’s a darn catchy pop song, and the upbeat “Do It Again” will have you grooving all summer long.
“William’s Heart,” “New Year’s Resolution” and “I Missed Your Party” follow the precedent set by “This is Love,” evoking the gilded, dreamy atmosphere of soda fountains, poodle skirts, and chrome diners of decades past. But it’s not all happy swing-dancing and sunshine: in “New Year’s Resolution,” Campbell’s self-doubt surfaces. “My New Year’s resolution is to write something of value,” she sings over a languid bass. This undercurrent arises again on the aptly titled waltzy ballad “Cri Du Coeur,” where she admits, “I know I’m a fuck-up / I never listen to people, you see.”
But Desire Lines refutes these claims. The album is poised and self-assured, even when Campbell and company seem to be doubting themselves. While this album certainly doesn’t take many risks, it’s still a solid effort from a band that knows what they want and where they’re going.