Camera Obscura - Desire Lines | Album Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret

Camera Obscura

Desire Lines

Toned down in bombast but not in quality; a subtle but certain gem.

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Author: on June 8, 2013
June 3, 2013

Five records in, Camera Obscura finally sound comfortable. Granted, there was always some distinct charm to Tracyanne Campbell’s awkward shyness on record, her unassuming voice fitting for her observant, intelligent lyrics. Coupled with elegant chamber pop, her reserved nature slowly but surely evolved into the assured control of a veteran frontwoman. On the bombastic My Maudlin Career, her engaging anecdotes were propelled skyward via a big-band style brass section and a sunny sheen. Tracyanne is still all gusto here, but Desire Lines is not that kind of record

It’s hardly a subdued record, but those familiar with the band through the aforementioned My Maudlin Career, or its predecessor Let’s Get Out Of This Country, may find Desire Lines a tad restrained.  Though don’t be fooled: the pomp in this pop lies in the guitar lines as opposed to the production frills. This is a touring record, in the purest sense – nothing on Desire Lines sounds impossibly big. Really, most of it evokes the same wintry landscapes and close-knit Glasgow neighborhoods of Underachievers Please Try Harder and Biggest Bluest Hi Fi, as though the band took their road test of the record to nearby pubs or maybe a local park or two, striving for a reach into their past. But this sounds fuller than those two early albums, more direct and fleshed out – maybe even more so than Maudlin Career, at least on the hooks; this record is deceptively a gut-puncher.

“Desire lines sent me to badlands,” Tracyanne relays on the album’s title track, continuing: “but I am on my way back now,” amongst glittering guitars and an entrancing violin. The imagery in this journey back from the dead is fitting for Desire Lines – much of the record deals with redemption and catharsis. Even on an upbeat tune like “Do It Again”, Campbell still finds time to be introspective, questioning a wayward lover –  “can you see tears on this clown?” – as she pines for them to stay another night. It’s not all doom and gloom with Camera Obscura, by any means, but Desire Lines is a more matured record. Whereas Maudlin was definitely a step into a more graduated grandiosity, Desire Lines flourishes in its subtlety. Campbell and Kenny McKeeve are insatiable with their guitar work, frequently highlighting a bouncy rhythm with a slick riff, or accentuating the waltz of the record’s ballads. And, truthfully, the disappearance of the enormous brass section stands in this record’s favour. While My Maudlin Career is definitely still the band’s watermark album, Desire Lines proves there was always more to Camera Obscura than just frills – you always came back for the sheer tunes.

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