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Tuesday, 09 July 2013 08:00

Album review: Camera Obscura bewitches and beguiles with 'Desire Lines'

Album review: Camera Obscura bewitches and beguiles with 'Desire Lines'
Written by Erin Frank
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Camera Obscura
"Desire Lines"

Produced by Tucker Martine in Portland, Ore. last winter, "Desire Lines" is Camera Obscura's fifth full-length album, stamped with a signature sound that's both moody and glowing, gloomy and sweet.

The instrumental and unnecessary "Intro" aside, the opening bars of "This Is Love (Feels Alright)" are bouncy and soulful, a perfect distillation of summer. This is the real beginning of "Desire Lines," released June 4, 2013 on 4AD, just in time for Camera Obscura's poised pop to herald the start of the season.

Tracyanne Campbell's vocals are so effortlessly chic and emotive that she should probably be singing in French; at least that way, she and fellow chanteuse-in-cool Annie Clark could hang out and raise elegant eyebrows at the rest of us for all of our sweaty, messy tendencies to try too hard and still fail to get the point across. I bet they can laugh and inhale Gauloises at the same time.

It's this quality of hers as well as the new wave-accented keyboards that paint an airy dreamscape rather than squat, brooding, in a maudlin shoe-gazey fog. Campbell's lyrics strike with an honest acuity that manages to deconstruct her own misbehavior and admit when she's thrown up her hands. In the bittersweet "William's Heart" she pursues a man besotted with tragic poetry, a quest a few of us (including me, cough cough) have learned the hard way that leads to the song's conclusion: "If it's a single man or a single malt that I take in my arms when I'm feeling low / You'll say honesty has made me cruel, I say you're soft and made of wool."

"Fifth in Line to the Throne" lopes along with Kenny McKeeve's beachy guitar echo and a fantasist metaphor, eventually looping into the cheeky, Loretta Lynn-ish melody of "I Missed Your Party." It's probably not correct to interpret this as Americana or folk since Camera Obscura comes from Glasgow, and the idea becomes even more absurd with the round horns that appear mid-song like a dance-floor Casanova cutting in for a turn. The strategy seems to be to turn the ear in just so many directions that the listener is never bored, although never for a moment fooled into thinking they are hearing something other than Camera Obscura.

The band's most recent albums, 2006's "Let's Get Out of This Country" and 2009's "My Maudlin Career," were both acclaimed releases, and "Desire Lines" is a worthy stylistic descendent. From the infectious beat of "Do It Again" to the forlorn trill of "Cri De Couer," this album is Camera Obscura's belle époque, and an altogether enchanting way to continue through the summer.

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