Thursday, April 23, 2009

Album Review: Camera Obscura - My Maudlin Career

Camera Obscura
My Maudlin Career
Rating: If after listening to this you still have testicles, you're doing okay.

Now that the phenomenon of internet music discovery has been well established, I recall that years ago I fortuitously came upon Camera Obscura in just that manner while perusing the bands listed on the Concrete’s site. But I bought My Maudlin Career at Permanent Records in Chicago on none other than Record Store Day, so a little “In your face!” to the digital music hand that fed me.

I consider Camera Obscura’s Let’s Get Out of this Country as an album that was part of a personal revival in my interest in the rock scene a few years back. It came alongside my discovery of other fantastically wimpy rock bands like Belle & Sebastian and Rilo Kiley. I fell hard for their poppy, sappy sound and their penchant for melodrama. After completely overdosing on it for months, I stashed it away for years and once again have been listening to it recently when I heard that My Maudlin Career was forthcoming. I’ve decided that it has staying power and thus made me excited for their next release.

The album opens with a catchy and arguably their best number, “French Navy.” The next track flows nicely into the dreamy “The Sweetest Thing” that starts with back-up singers woo-woo-wooing and tambourines shaking. It makes you want to don a polyester, flowery 1960’s dress and take your sweetheart for a moonlit walk. Funny how music can whisk you away to a time and place you’ve never been to. A light country rhythm and slide guitar accompanies “Away with Murder” and closes with a melancholy violin. We get a mid-album break with “James,” a meditational, heartbreaker of a song. It definitely has a whiff of Belle & Sebastian. I was a bit disappointed with the closing track, “Honey in the Sun” because I think it was too reminiscent of “Lloyd, I’m Ready to be Heartbroken” from the previously mentioned Let's Get Out of This Country. It did not give My Maudlin Career the epic, sweeping closure that “Razzle Dazzle Rose” gave Let’s Get Out of This Country. This may be a bit nit-picky, but I felt the closer should have been “My Maudlin Career” for it being the title track and its echoy grandeur. Camera Obscura has once again nailed down the art of retro pop and it can be delivered to you in a beautiful watercolor album cover should you choose to go non-digital.

But above all what stands out in My Maudlin Career is Campbell’s vocal styling, the band’s true piece de resistance. Campbell’s steely, paucity of expression belies her church-like voice. It’s fragile and also very soothing. In concert she sings like a reluctant member of a choir, and only shows occasional hints of anguish that indicate she actually is feeling something. It’s quite refreshing given the multitudes of stage acts out there that often detract from musicianship.

After listening to My Maudlin Career ad nauseum, I notice I keep on reaching for the heavy handed bluesy rock of the Black Keys. You do run the risk of getting oversaturated with the girliness of Camera Obscura. So this review is a caveat for all the manly men out there. I have yet to meet a man who offered up that he likes Camera Obscura. So while you might not buy into this music all that much, at least you can woo your next rock babe at your nearest dive with this material.

Shaping today’s rock music landscape you have at one end the cataclysmic, experimental jangle of Animal Collective and the introspective poetry of Elvis Perkins at another. On some vastly different part of the spectrum lies Camera Obscura with their simple formula: one lead singer/songwriter performs structured songs with a tame band. This Scottish band plays nothing up with that classic reserved, across-the-pond attitude. But if you strip away all the existential shit that we often tie to a band’s worth and just listen to this bittersweet orchestral pop, it’s really quite enjoyable.

--Audrey Wen

No comments:

eXTReMe Tracker