“I wanted to control it, oh love I couldn’t hold it” are the words that Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell sings to kick off the Glasgow band’s fourth album, My Maudlin Career. With such romantics in place and expanding on the right balance of lush pop and sweeping strings, it’s hard not to hold back.
These traits carry a precocious talent in the fact that they’re never off-putting but in reality, strikingly wonderful. And for Campbell and her fellow bandmates, they’ve developed a strong correlation to pop and its infinite connections with emotion and love. On “You Told a Lie” she sings, “No need to convince me that you were a catch” and later shares how she heard “love conquers all.” The music is a fittingly gentle ballad that features Campbell in her sweetly, soft-spoken style. And just as everything around her is growing into splendid soundscapes of believing any little white lie your lover will whisper into your ear, her expressions are fantastically conveyed.
Pretty little birds like this are hard to fight off. They chirp and sing with such affecting ease that it almost feels like a crime. Perception is everything, and music like Camera Obscura’s—the kind that could be dismissed as fluffy and sugary—is giftedly tender and sweet. Sure, it’s a fine line but the quintet possesses a careful attention to the finer things in life and they bring those aspects to the light, where they belong.
The soaring highs of “Careless Love” reach dreamy heights. It comes off as a breathy walk on the beach and then the strings swoop in like something out of 101 Strings’ playbook. The robust cellos, filling violins and the brash string basses pack a powerful punch. And if you’re careful, you’ll hear what sounds like The Beach Boys’ vocals on the opening wooing of “The Sweetest Thing.” A fulfilling theme of happiness, Campbell sings “50 ways to leave your lover” with the utmost confidence.
I should note and expose the fact that the album has been out for a few months now. This isn’t to say that it was in any way forgotten but moreso, nestled around other records that while being a bit flashier, were in no way a higher quality than My Maudlin Career. These intricacies and take away moments reveal themselves in particularly hopeful ways. But you have to give it the time to open up to you as well.
The lullaby melody on “Other Towns and Cities” brings about a stripped and sealed away sound. The strings disappear, along with most of the bandmates’ instruments and Campbell is left with a single guitar to stand on. Gracefully elegant, a sole violin creeps in to provide some shelter. And this starkly distances itself from the roaring closer, “Honey in the Sun.” The only song to feature a horn section and the longest one at that, going away elated and leisurely uplifted just feels right.
Candidly speaking, even without the strings, the horns, or those schmaltzy lyrics, at the core of Camera Obscura’s strength is its songwriting chops. As a unit, the group amassed some of the best music of their careers onto this singular, ‘effusively sentimental,’ career. They don’t want you to hold back in any way and when the music is this impressive, who really wants to?