The title song of Camera Obscura‘s fourth record, My Maudlin Career, catches the ever so fair lead singer Tracyanne Campbell singing: “This maudlin career has come to an end/I don’t want to be sad again.” Those words might sadden the already depressed followers of the somber Glasgow band, the same group that has given the soundtrack of solace, confirmation and understanding in romantic mishaps, all to shoegazing youths not affiliated with the emo culture, including yours truly, and throughout the first nine years of the 21st century.
There’s no need, however, to be alarmed and take Campbell’s words literally. She has pretty much grown into her role as a role model of twee and has not been particularly happy anytime throughout her band’s four albums. That an album with the name My Maudlin Career would change any of that is very unlikely, even though it further accentuates Camera Obscura’s departure from the obsolete term called twee. It’s their richest, most sweepingly moody and somehow self-aware effort to date. Though, kudos may be directed to the producer Jari Haapalainen who also collaborated on their third and vaguely similar album, Let’s Get Out Of This Country.
Now, Haapalainen is Swedish and I knew that perfectly well. His production work has blessed some of Sweden’s finest indie pop albums of recent years and also many of Ed Harcourt’s works. But, I must say, I was utterly surprised to hear him sneak in the melody of a very well known Swedish folk song, whose name I can’t remember right now, in the beginning and end of “Swans”. Curious facts aside, Haapalainen has once again pulled off to produce a band without strangling it in his vital and sprawling style. Whereas Let’s Get Out Of This Country marked a point where the band actually delved deeper into their country influences, My Maudlin Career displays a sound that is more orchestrated and elegantly packaged than what we’re used to. Campbell’s feeble voice makes it sound like she is going to swoon several times, to my seduced bewilderment, as it’s embedded in the concentrated yet airy romantic arrangements. “You Told A Lie” portrays this notion: “Are my eyes the coldest blue?/You said once this was true/If it is I don’t know what I’ll do/Cause I’m stuck with them/And they’re stuck on you”.
Strings have been used to great advantage here. They tend to outgrow the songwriting, tearing down the walls and lifting the roof in order to set free dusty chamber pop that has sometimes been to Camera Obscura’s disadvantages. Being forced out of the four wall compartment, the lonely sobbing, Campbell finds herself in the beautiful spring, where the rest of us have been engaging in at the moment, to blot her feelings that, while very naked, are oh so sweetly expressed. Still, the feeling around Camera Obscura has never quite been this exuberantly pertinent. Have a listen to the billowing caresses of the strings on “Careless Love” or the typical Haapalainen uptempo indie pop anthem “Honey In The Sun”. I’ll be damned if a certain band isn’t having a new spring!
My Maudlin Career consists of nothing but pure and (future) classic Camera Obscura songs. If you’re looking for any mentionable progression you’ll have to stop skimming the surface and dive deeper into the refined emotional states that Campbell is delivering in a most unstrained way. First track and excellent lead single (one of the best this year), “French Navy” is this year’s equivalent to Vampire Weekend’s “Mansard Roof”, as it sees Campbell telling a story of desperation, of not being able to handle the sudden and strong infatuation with a French sailor through a late 19th century-style pop gem. Such an endeavor and milestone only points toward what the rest of the album thereby confirms: a maturity, a capacity and an awareness that only a band of the finest vintage can achieve. Camera Obscura has reached such a peak and My Maudlin Career is a charming and excellent testimony of indie pop that is touching, catchy and smart — without ever sounding pretentious or nonchalantly blunt.